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Exhibition notebook: Villanova 69, Jefferson 42 (WBB)

11/01/2023, 11:30pm EDT
By Josh Verlin + Mike Livingston

By Josh Verlin (@jmverlin) &
Mike Livingston (@liv_twts22)

The Villanova women held their last tune-up before the 2023-24 season officially gets underway, dispatching local Division II foe Jefferson in a 69-42 exhibition win on Wednesday night.

Here’s some observations from the Finn:


Rotation Watch

As expected, Villanova coach Denise Dillon rolled out a starting lineup of junior point guard Zanai Jones, junior guard Lucy Olsen, grad student wings Maddie Burke and Bella Runyan and junior forward Christina Dalce.

Zanai Jones (above) started at point guard for Villanova in Wednesday's exhibition. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)

First off the bench for the Wildcats was freshman wing Maddie Webber, coming off the bench just past the five-minute mark; sophomore wing forward Megan Olbrys followed her shortly thereafter. In the second quarter, freshman wing Brynn McCurry got her first minutes, as did redshirt freshman Abby Jegede

Those nine saw all the minutes in the first half, and made up the majority of the minutes played by the Wildcats rotation. But don’t expect that to be consistent all season long, a change from last year, when Dilllon was locked in on a rotation from the get-go.

“I think a lot of (our rotation) is going to be based off of matchups, of who we’re facing,” Dillon said afterwards. “It could be mixed up depending on who we’re going against. We’re small in general so you’re going to see a lot of small-ball out there. But rotation-wise, just trying to get our freshmen in, Maddie Webber and Brynn McCurry, as much experience as they can so they can give us significant minutes throughout the season.”

Forwards Maggie Grant and Kylie Swider were the only other two Wildcats who played, getting some run in the fourth quarter. Unavailable on Wednesday night was junior wing Kaitlyn Orihel, who’s out with what the school deemed a “lower-body” injury; Dillon said that the program was “trying to figure out, time-wise” how long the 5-10 Archbishop Wood product would be out. Orihel has averaged 3.0 ppg playing 69 games off the bench the last two years.


Webber makes her mark

There’s no doubt that Villanova will need help in the scoring column this year. With Maddy Siegrist now in the WNBA, someone besides Olsen — who led the way with 22 points on 9-of-19 shooting (4-7 3PT) — is going to have to step up and make some shots. 

Freshman guard Maddie Webber (above) scored 10 points in her unofficial debut. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)

Enter Webber. The 5-foot-11 freshman impressed Wednesday night, with 10 points and six rebounds while going 3-of-5 from beyond the arc, serving as the first reserve off the bench for Dillon’s squad.

The Bridgeville PA native was a standout at South Fayette high school last season, earning all-state honors while averaging 17.3 ppg, 4.2 rpg, and 3.0 spg for the Lions. This group will need her scoring touch going forward, as outside of Olsen they don’t have many players capable of creating their own look at a high clip.

“Obviously we’re aware of what Maddie’s capable of doing,” Dillon said. “We just played Saturday [in a closed scrimmage] and [...] the turnaround she made with the adjustments that she needed was great. That’s what you’re hoping, just to find more consistency, instead of the ups and downs you get from a freshman.”


Jefferson hangs tough

From the outset, it looked like it might be a long night for Jefferson. Villanova jumped out to a 20-2 lead on its D-II foe, which it dispatched by more than 40 in last year’s exhibition game. 

But Jefferson head coach Tom Shirley’s been around the block a couple times, won a few games (or like 849 of them), and his team wasn’t going to fold that easily. The Rams went on a 15-0 run in the second quarter to close the gap to 10, and it stayed that way for a while; the difference was still 12 with under three minutes left in the third when Villanova finally started to pull away. 

“I thought it was a good test for us,” said Shirley, whose Rams are coming off a 28-5 season which ended in the D-II Sweet 16. “Obviously we got off to a terrible start, so when you factor that in and look at the comeback that we made, I think there’s some positive takeaways. I thought our defense was fairly good given their size.”

Junior wing Sam Yencha came up big in that stretch, scoring all 10 of her points during the run, the 5-11 wing from Holy Redeemer (Pa.) going 5-of-9 from the floor, adding in 10 rebounds for a double-double. Rams star wing Haley Meinel (7 pts) was mostly held in check by a Villanova defense keying on her; redshirt freshman Emily Spratt, a CB West grad, came in off the bench and had a productive 14 minutes (4 pts/4 rebs), matched up often on defense against a familiar face.

“I thought Emily Spratt came in and did a decent job, first time in a decent venue and going against Maddie Burke, her former teammate,” Shirley said. “I thought Emily showed a good spark for us.”


Olsen gets off the ball, and in the net

With the introduction of junior point guard Zanai Jones to the starting lineup, combo-guard and leading scorer Lucy Olsen has been moved off the ball and into a new role as the ‘2’ guard to begin the 2023-24 campaign. 

The Wildcat’s leading returning scorer, Olsen averaged 12.4 ppg and 4.4 apg, acting mainly as the point guard for Villanova. The Royersford native and Spring-Ford grad earned All-Big East second team honors along with All-Big 5 honors in 2022-23 while also leading her club in assists (163) and steals (50). 

Tonight however, the off-ball mentality set in for Olsen as she let her offensive prowess take over in her new role. Olsen recorded 22 points, going 9-for-19 from the field and 4-for-7 from three point range while recording only three assists on the night. 

As for Jones, in her first start at the point, she put up a respectable line of seven points, three assists, and four rebounds.

“We’ve been working on it, me [playing] off ball, which is nice because I’ve played point guard my whole life,” Olsen said. “So having someone else who can handle the ball,.it gives me a chance to run in transition, and Z is really good at finding the open man.”


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