Croup’s Corner – Women’s basketball team’s successful season cut far too short

Written By Josh Croup, Sports Columnist

The women’s basketball team missed the playoffs last year for the first time since the 2010-11 season.

Head coach Tony Grenek said repeatedly last season that he thought his team was getting out-hustled, outworked or outplayed.

Point Park started 5-1 in conference play last year but fell to 8-9 by the end of the season due to a slew of injuries to its top players. It just wasn’t their year.

This year seemed different from the start, and it was.

The team fielded its deepest all-around roster in a few years. Point Park’s schedule leaned in its favor compared to years in the past, despite a travel-heavy conclusion that Point Park still managed effectively.

The Pioneers really only had troubles with two teams this year: IU East and West Virginia Tech. Both defeated Point Park twice and ultimately forced the Pioneers to hit the road for the conference tournament.

Besides that, the Pioneers rolled through the River States Conference (RSC), posting their best-ever record in cross-divisional play by sweeping RSC West division opponents during the regular season.

Junior forward Sam Weir returned to old form after missing most of last year due to injury. Senior guard Maryssa Agurs came back strong in 2018 after missing the final few games of 2017 with an injury. Michelle Burns emerged as a lethal weapon from outside for Point Park who also specialized in creating chaos at the rim and the free throw line.

The Pioneers regularly fielded 14 players who rotated in and out of games, consistently rested and consistently aggressive.

The hustle, the heart, and the drive that Grenek often thought was missing last year was rarely questioned this year. The Pioneers brought everything they had night in and night out.

The first round of the playoffs were no different.

In one of the most physical games Point Park was involved in this year, Alice Lloyd edged out the Pioneers in overtime to knock them out of the postseason.

Point Park brought everything to the road against Alice Lloyd. It just wasn’t enough.

It’s a crushing way to end one of the team’s most successful seasons in the past few years. Point Park finished the regular season 17-10 and 12-5 in RSC play, with four of those losses coming against WVU Tech and IU East. Point Park won every other conference game besides its conference opener against Rio Grande.

The Pioneers will likely lose seven players going into next year, including Weir. She still has one semester of eligibility remaining, but it is unclear if she will play next year or not. Weir was recognized on senior day.

Weir, Agurs, Baylee Buleca, captain Shaniya Rivers, Kiana Daley, Angelina Starr and Nikki Corcoran all won’t return next year. They accounted for over half of the team’s points this season (1082 of 2126) and 60 percent of Point Park’s rebounds (676 of 1126).

Weir led the team in points per game (13.1) and rebounds (200) and will be hard enough to replace on her own. Buleca and Weir combined for 26 percent of the team’s rebounds.

It was a special group of players and the seven graduating players will be hard to replace. They were the team’s core. They were the team’s identity.

Next year, they’ll have to develop a new identity with the same heart and hustle that this year’s group left behind.

As is the case at the end of every year, we’re left with a lot of “What if?” scenarios that have different endings than the one Point Park experienced against Alice Lloyd.

What if the team didn’t lose its first game against Rio Grande? What if IU East didn’t rally in the final seconds to beat Point Park in the second meeting of the two teams? What if the Pioneers escaped Alice Lloyd with a win and got a third chance against the Red Wolves? What if they hosted the first round playoff game?

The team came up short in the end, but it doesn’t mean the season wasn’t a success. It was a step up from last season and proof that Point Park women’s basketball isn’t fading away any time soon.