Basketball seniors using extra year of eligibility make a difference on and off the court


Michelle Burns, Carly Lutz, Sierra Dawson

Written By Antonio Rossetti, Co-Sports Editor

It isn’t often that three players use their extra year of eligibility simultaneously. College and basketball are left behind after graduation and one moves into the workforce. Nevertheless, Michelle Burns, Carly Lutz and Sierra Dawson make up the seniors of the women’s basketball team and all used their extra year of eligibility, playing one more season with their teammates. However, even though it was an easy choice, there were obstacles that the players faced making it happen.

Burns grew up in Greensburg and played high school basketball at Hempfield. Burns didn’t know about the opportunities at Point Park, but after a few visits to the school, she said she knew this was the place she wanted to be.

“I really had no idea about Point Park, but then I was talking to my high school assistant coach, and she got me set up to go on a visit,” said Burns. “I talked to Coach Grenek, he set up the visits. And I had no idea I was a city girl, but I really fell in love with the campus when I went on my visits, and everything just went into place.”

Burns said she knew when talking with head coach Tony Grenek that she would be playing basketball all the time and would also get a decent amount of playing time. She adjusted quickly to the college level and averaged 13 points per game in her first season.

Burns became a key component to the offense in her sophomore and junior season. In both seasons, Burns continually improved. In her sophomore season, she averaged 14.2 points per game, and in her junior season, that average increased to15.8 points per game. Burns said she started to realize her role was important to the team.

“I felt like my freshman and sophomore years I contributed a lot, but I knew going in as an upperclassman, now I take the reins, now I’m a leader,” Burns said. “That meant a lot to me, and I had to be a leader for my younger teammates.”

According to Burns, she was motivated by how her teammates, and Coach Grenek helped her when she was an underclassmen so she returned the favor. Burns mentioned that her summer practices and workouts for basketball were more intense and that she was ready for the challenge.

Another obstacle for her and the team is the road games the team plays. Year by year, the team travels across multiple states into Kentucky, Indiana and various states to play River States Conference (RSC) basketball. Although the travel was hard at first, she and the team got used to it. The biggest challenge came during her senior year during the shortened season.

“Every day we wouldn’t really know until we got to practice or maybe a few hours before,” she said. “‘Are we gonna practice tomorrow? Are we gonna have a game two days from now?’ So the uncertainty was crazy.”

Despite the difficulty, Burns sees the shortened season as an opportunity to play an extra season of basketball and an extra 10 games she originally wouldn’t have had.

Burns took advantage of those games averaging 21.7 points per game, which made her first in the entire RSC and sixth in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics. In her senior year, Burns broke the three point record and assists record at Point Park. Burns has made an impact for the Pioneers and Coach Grenek sees her as a superstar on and off the court. Grenek believes that she is a first-ballot Point Park hall of famer.

Since graduating last year, Burns works full-time as an insurance broker. She works remotely, so she is able to play basketball, but this shows her love for the game and her teammates. Coach Grenek said he was very excited to have one last go-around with Burns and worked out ways for her to practice without getting in the way of her job. Grenek commends Burns for her dedication and love for the team.

“You’re looking at a kid that, who did an internship with Pfizer, has a full-time job right now at a very successful firm, she’s getting her master’s degree and playing basketball in her fifth year, at a very high level,” said Grenek. “Just mentioning all that stuff is just an amazing accomplishment. The thing is she’s been basically a straight A student her entire tenure at Point Park and is a tremendous human being and a tremendous role model.”

Another senior who returned for an extra year was Carly Lutz. However, Lutz is a sixth year senior who transferred from Slippery Rock University. There, she played in one season but suffered a season-ending injury her first year. Lutz said she knew she wanted a place that balanced both academics and athletics, while also being closer to home.

“I called my high school coach and I was like, ‘I don’t know what to do. I don’t have I don’t know how to do this transfer stuff. I don’t know where to go. I don’t know who to talk to,’ and she was like, ‘call Tony Grenek. Call him and he’ll help you out’ and the rest is history,” said Lutz. “The man has given me more than I could ever repay him. I was a perfect fit for the team. Everything happens for a reason, you know?”

In her first year at Point Park, Lutz was still getting used to the new atmosphere. Nevertheless, she developed and bettered her game, starting 16 games in her second season at Point Park. In her third year, Lutz started even more games, starting in 19 out of 28 games. In those two seasons, Lutz averaged over five rebounds per game and brought the team grit and anchored the defense.

“I’ve never been a super stat player. I don’t fill up the stat sheet. I don’t drop crazy numbers, but I’m just always a person that truly cares for the team,” said Lutz.

Lutz’s rebounding has made an impact. She countlessly gives the team extra possessions, pulling down offensive and defensive rebounds.
Coach Grenek mentioned that the team wants a Dennis Rodman-like mentality. Rodman played in the NBA for 14 seasons and made a hall of fame career due to his gritty defense and tenacious rebounding. Rodman won 5 NBA Championships, including 2 with the Detroit Pistons and 3 with the Chicago Bulls. Lutz has drawn comparisons to Rodman’s style of play.

“Everyone always compares me to him (Rodman), and it’s true. I love rebounding. I don’t care about scoring. I don’t need to have Michelle Burns point averages, whatever crazy number it is, or Taylor Rinn’s numbers,” said Lutz. “My job is to rebound and get them the ball because they’re putting the ball in the hoop. They make my life easy, and I make their life easy. It’s that kind of relationship.”

Lutz doesn’t only help her teammates, but she helps her students too. Lutz is now a full-time teacher, but last year she worked with an occupational therapist during her student teaching. While student teaching, Lutz developed an adaptive toy for a student who was paralyzed from the neck down but didn’t have any brain damage.

“We basically took a toy and a toy with a motor and gutted it and then re-circuited the motor so that it would go through this adaptive switch,” said Lutz. “So instead of turning on the power button, he would have to just throw his arm down onto the switch, and turn on the toy.”

Lutz assists people continuously on and off the court. The development of the first toy led to a multitude of toys that were developed. She also developed a bowl that allowed her student to blow bubbles with friends at recess.

“It was just a really cool thing to see him participating with his friends in his own way,” said Lutz “That was definitely a really, really cool experience, and I hope to keep doing it.”

Whether it be playing basketball with her teammates or using a Dunkin’ Donuts vizor so a student can write by attaching an adaptive toy to the vizor, she always has been willing to help. Coach Grenek said he believes that was her main reason for returning.

“She’s a selfless person that is always thinking of others. You ask her to do something, and she does it,” said Grenek. “For her to be here six years and getting her principal papers and her still being a part of our basketball program, I just feel blessed because she’s such an awesome person.”

Lutz’s decision to return is a testament to how well the team works together. Lutz doesn’t practice during the week and only plays on the weekend. Lutz said she is glad that Coach Grenek trusts her to miss practice and then play in the game, but both the players and Grenek are glad she came back one last season.

Lutz thrives off of being busy. She said she is content with being a full-time teacher, a sixth year basketball player, and a part-time worker at both Finish Line and Dunkin’ Donuts. She will continue her teaching at Baldwin High School, which is her high school alma mater, after basketball.

Another senior who made her way back to Point Park was Sierra Dawson, who is not only a basketball player, but is also a track & field star.

Dawson grew up in Elizabeth and went to Elizabeth-Forward High School. Her decision to go to Point Park was an easy choice for her. She loved downtown and the urban-feel of the city.

Point Park also gave her the chance to focus on her education and to earn her Bachelor’s Degree in Biology. Point Park also gave her the opportunity to play basketball and track & field.

Dawson got into a rhythm and gave the team quality minutes off the bench as an underclassmen. However, in her senior year, Dawson started in half of the team’s game and had career highs in points per game and rebounds per game.

Dawson is also successful for the track & field team. Most settle for playing one sport in college, but for Dawson, she has a passion for both sports. Dawson has been a major part of both teams, but balancing both sports presents challenges.

“It’s definitely difficult, but because I love both sports so much they’re kind of easy to be able to train for both,” Dawson said. “It gets hard at times because of putting myself at such a high standard. It’s something I did in high school and just kind of brought it over into college. Obviously, the stakes are a little bit higher, but I love it.”

In her senior season, the track & field team came in first place in both indoor and outdoor track, taking home the RSC Championship. Dawson said she loved every moment of the first place finish.

“It was amazing. It’s such a good feeling that all the work that your entire team put through the entire year pays off at the end, and it’s just exciting,” said Dawson. “When you hear like that we got first place and everyone is cheering and jumping. It’s a really good feeling.”

In that same conference championship, Dawson had an amazing performance, contributing to the team’s success during the javelin throw.

She came in third during the javelin throw, which was much higher than she anticipated.

Her commitment and passion for both sports give her an edge and is a way of life for her. When it comes to basketball, she has had so many great moments that she can’t narrow it down to one defining moment.

Dawson is also busy outside of basketball. Not only is she focused on both sports, but she also works as a trainer at Shoot 360. This is beneficial for her as she is looking to get into the sports field as an Athletic Director. She is incredibly busy, but her teammates always keep her in a positive mood.

Dawson’s passion for sports led to another opportunity. During her senior season, Dawson became the first-ever RSC Diversity Intern. For her Master’s Degree, she looks to become an athletic director and is grateful she has the opportunity to become the first Diversity Intern for the conference.

“I work really close with the commissioner of our conference, and kind of sit in on the different meetings they have for each sport,” said Dawson. “When they’re having their AD meetings, there’s different meetings for basketball, track and all of the other sports and then I’m able to just keep in contact with a lot of the surrounding ADs and the ones that are conference.”

Coach Grenek said he sees a bright future for Dawson and believes that her dedication and her confidence will lead to an amazing career after Point Park as an Athletic Director.

Coach Grenek said he was ecstatic that Dawson returned for one last season and knows that she represents the Pioneers extraordinarily well.

“She’s been a tremendous role player for us on the basketball court, she won championships in track and field and once again, she follows the mold of being a tremendous human being that comes out of our women’s basketball program and track and field program.”

Between the three seniors, that is over 16 years of basketball experience. Coach Grenek is honored that all three came back for one last season. The seniors last go-around with the team had many obstacles, but they ultimately worked around them. If one thing is for sure, life isn’t always easy, but dedicated human beings with the right head on their shoulders will always find a way to succeed in life. That is what all three players accomplish time and time again.

Coach Grenek said he sees limitless potential for all three athletes and can’t wait to see what life has in-store for them.

“I think you’re gonna see nothing but success, success, success. They’re so self driven. I’m just honored to have been their coach for five or six years. There’s not a negative word about any of them,” Grenek said. “When you’re a coach, a dream comes true for a coach, obviously, is winning a championship, but at this level, even more important is to see kids graduate and do great things in their lives and they’re already doing great things. They’re only going to accomplish more and more for years to come.”