Owen McCue (@Owen_McCue)
The Villanova women’s basketball team was the star of the city this past season.
As the only one of the 12 City 6 programs to make the NCAA Tournament, the Wildcats advanced all the way to their first Sweet 16 since 2003.
Third-year coach Denise Dillon guided the program to a 30-7 (17-3 Big East) record, which marked the most wins in program history both overall and in the conference.
All-American forward Maddy Siegrist (29.2 ppg, 9.2 rpg) led the country in scoring and elevated the program to new heights.
With Siegrist headed to the WNBA, Dillon will rely on a group that supplemented Siegrist’s stardom — particularly the likes of sophomores Lucy Olsen (12.4 ppg, 4.4 apg) and Christina Dalce (7.3, ppg, 7.9 rpg, 2.3 bpg) — to collectively fill her big shoes next season and keep Villanova in the national conversation.
We talked to Dillon earlier this month as part of our series of City 6 Q+As; here’s a transcript of our conversation, edited for readability and length:
City 6 Q+A Series (Links will appear as stories are published)
MBB: Drexel | La Salle | Penn | St. Joe’s | Temple | Villanova
WBB: Drexel | La Salle | Penn | St. Joe’s | Temple | Villanova
Villanova head coach Denise Dillon talked to CoBL after a Sweet 16 season. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
City of Basketball Love: Obviously one of the best seasons in the program's history. What are some of your final thoughts on what you guys accomplished this year?
Denise Dillon: Yeah, now's the time like you're having these meetings and you're talking, and you get a chance to really reflect on what was accomplished. I was talking to Michelle Sword, our assistant and she’s like, ‘Wow, we won 30 games.’ So I think when you're in the action of it, you know, you're not thinking about that. You're just thinking about, okay, putting yourself in the best position, getting that next win. So really proud of what we accomplished, but most importantly, how our team embraced the success. The individual accolades that were received is how, you know, Maddy (Siegrist) was recognized for so much and the level of excitement that her teammates showed throughout each recognition has been really inspiring. It's unbelievable, really exciting.
CoBL: You mentioned Maddy. She declared for the draft. What was that conversation like to I guess thank her for what she's brought to the table in this program? (Note: Siegirist was selected with the third overall pick in the WNBA Draft by the Dallas Wings)
DD: I was the conversation we had throughout the year. It was just breaking it down, telling her you know, no decision has to be made but you have this timeframe she has worked through within her college career. The reality is, she'd accomplished everything and more than I think she had set out to do and then even as a team. Like obviously would we want that Big East championship? For sure. We put ourselves in the position to do it. You know, we still need more in order to beat, knock UConn off, but then to just continue to advance in the NCAA Tournament. She has just really elevated the program. Again, you saw pieces of this over time. But now it's our job to continue to keep us moving in this direction. What Maddy has done, it's going to be remembered for as long as Villanova basketball continues, and I really appreciate the relationship that we built over our time and enjoying it. Maddy’s the type of person who can just make light of things. Like maybe five years down the road, she'll realize what she really accomplished. But in this time, she's like, ‘Oh, I was just doing what I'm supposed to do.’
CoBL: You hit on it a little bit, but how excited are you to see this group try to continue to sustain the success, I guess collectively kind of fill some of the production that she brought to the table? How excited are you to see this group kind of grow this offseason? A lot of people are gonna have to take a lot of big steps.
DD: Absolutely. And that's it. That's why we're having these conversations now. They're aware of it. It's stating the obvious. They all know it and we've seen great progression in a number of players and their role and responsibility increase and now it's time for even greater production. So I'm feeling that they're embracing it. Now, it's a different story when they get put in those situations like how they handle the adversity of being a little bit harder out on the floor. But it’s for us to prepare them in the offseason and throughout next fall and get them game ready. They definitely have the right approach and attitude towards it. They know last year — we run a continuity offense, five out motion and if we weren't getting something, we very well knew we had a player in Maddy who could get us a bucket and bail us out in a play. These guys understand that they need each other. They need the offense to really get them looks, and we need them to become more consistent within it. I think the more open and real the conversations are that it prepares them for how much they have to put into it.
CoBL: For this program, you have so much connection to it. You've seen multiple eras of it. How do you guys maintain this that you're one of the top 25 teams in the country, you're an NCAA tournament team every year? Is that something you think is possible here and what will it take to do that, sustain the success you've had the last two years?
DD: Certainly, it’s the goal and objective. It’s been the vision with my return. Talking with our staff and what we expect, talking to the team, and recognizing I am fortunate to have the great example of our men's program and seeing what they did and recognizing like we're offering the same thing here at Villanova. And we have, I think it's a great university. It's a basketball university, so you have all these tools offered, the resources in order to be successful, so it's the expectation. Now again, we have to do a great job, a better job of continuing to develop the players we have and recruiting those that fit the style and the culture of Villanova. At Villanova, the culture has always been number one. Harry (Perretta) established that from Day One, the importance of community, like the Villanova way, and us continuing that. It's just staying on point, constantly working with who we have, but knowing if you work it out together, you can continue to see success. It may not always be at the level you have in mind, but if you're working towards that you're going to at least be consistent year in and year out.
CoBL: You're heading into your fourth year, so what's that like seeing, okay, all of a sudden most of the team is kind of the girls that you brought in here and have seen develop? Is that something adding a little bit of excitement next year to see some of those players that you've brought into the program and see them grow?
DD: Yeah, absolutely. And it's now the rising juniors. They were the first class that we brought in, and you're seeing what Lucy Olsen has done in her first two years and just continues to get better. And Christina Dalce, she had such a great year for us, but she's so capable of more and she knows she is and she wants more, so really excited about her stepping into that junior season. Zanai Jones, another, you can just see their maturity, their understanding of what they're capable of, what we're doing, and just us continuing to work with them. We can get more production like we always talk about that responsibility they have on the floor and they're definitely understanding it. Kaitlyn Orihel, another who's been pretty much a utility player for us, but she — I do constantly challenge her. I think she's capable of giving us more, and we're going to rely on that here in her junior year. But that group is really, really fortunate to get them as our first group here because of their love for basketball and their commitment to it, like watching, learning. They’re real hardcore when it comes to basketball. Their joy to play certainly is breathtaking for a coach to know, ‘All right now. They're willing to work with us. They want to be the best they can possibly be.’
CoBL: They like to win too. I know Lucy a little from high school and I've been around the Wood program a little bit.
DD: Yeah, that's the difference. You want to find players who were part of something like a team concept. You say, ‘Wood,’ they play some of the best team basketball and they've done it year in year out and like Kaitlyn Orihel, they expect like okay, ‘What do we need to do to win?’ I think even her leadership mentality in that sense. It doesn't just happen because you came from a winning program, and you think you're a part of a winning tradition. It doesn't. You now are responsible to make it happen and this group in particular, they get that
CoBL: Anything else you're looking forward to this offseason that didn't hit on?
DD: No, it really is just that growth and development. I mean, I can't say it enough. One thing I guess should be mentioned is that we have an opportunity. We’re invited for the 3-on-3 trials out in Colorado, USA Basketball. We have Lucy Olsen, Christina Dalce, Sanai Jones and Maddie Burke all participating. That's going to be a great opportunity for them and really important for us moving forward.
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