|Makenzie Mason||Sofia Recupero||Emily Sheehan||Lily Warhaftig|
Fresh off of a Final Four appearance a season ago, the No. 3 University of Scranton Lady Royals will open the 2019-20 campaign on Friday night against Ursinus at 8 p.m.
The game is a part of the Gwynedd Mercy Tip-Off Tournament and Scranton will play either Gwynedd Mercy or Pitt-Bradford on Saturday afternoon.
Head coach Nick DiPillo enters his first season at the helm of the Lady Royals after spending the past five seasons as a Director of Player Development and assistant coach at Seton Hall University. During his time, DiPillo helped guide the Pirates to a 94-66 record and two NCAA Tournament berths.
"I'm excited, about 16 years ago I coached my first game as an assistant and you always kind of think about what it would be like to be a head coach and run your own show, but until you're sitting in that seat, you don't know what the day to day stuff is going to be like," said DiPillo. "I'm blessed to have an amazing group of kids and such a great staff as we head into this venture."
Scranton returns four senior starters from last year's team: guard Makenzie Mason (Doylestown, Pa./Central Bucks West), forward Sofia Recupero (Whitestone, N.Y./Saint Francis Prep), guard Emily Sheehan (Dunmore, Pa./Dunmore) and guard Lily Warhaftig (Harlem, N.Y./Poly Prep). All four started 30 or more games for the Lady Royals last season.
"These kids understand how to win and as we adapt to a new style of play, the grittiness, toughness and pride that these returners have won't allow them to take days off or plays off," said DiPillo. "I think they are uniquely prepared to take on the challenges that lie ahead as we enter the season with a pretty big target on our back."
The Lady Royals were tabbed No. 3 in the D3Hoops.com and No. 5 in the WBCA preseason poll. Additionally, Scranton received seven first place votes and was selected to capture a fifth consecutive Landmark Conference crown.
Mason was named a First Team Preseason All-American by D3Hoops.com after leading the team in points (14.0 ppg), rebounds (7.6 rpg), assists (100) and blocks (53) a year ago. The Doylestown, Pa., native is the reigning Landmark Conference Player of the Year and garnered Second Team All-American honors from D3Hoops.com.
"Mason got a taste of the team and individual success last year and I think that is really fueling her as we head into her senior season," said DiPillo.
Recupero and Sheehan both earned All-Landmark Conference Second Team accolades in 2018-19 and Sheehan was named Defensive Player of the Year after leading the team in steals (40). The Lady Royals allowed just 48.8 ppg a year ago, a total that was eighth best in all of Division III.
Recupero averaged 9.9 points per game and 6.2 rebounds per game a season ago while shooting 50.4% from the field.
Other returners for Scranton include junior guard Taylor Rodriguez (Wayne, N.J./Wayne Hills) who averaged 5.4 points per game in 32 games last year, sophomore forward Danielle McCurdy (Philadelphia, Pa./Archbishop Ryan) and sophomore guard Emily Shurina (East Meadow, N.Y./East Meadow). McCurdy averaged 3.5 points and 3.3 rebounds in a key reserve role off the bench, while Shurina shot 52.9% from three-point range.
The Lady Royals also added four newcomers to the roster in guards Hannah Angelini (Baldwin Place, N.Y./Somers) and Bridget Monaghan (Florham Park, N.J./Morristown-Beard) along with forwards Sara Walsh (Havertown, Pa./Haverford) and Kyra Quigley (Drexel Hill, Pa./Sacred Heart Academy). DiPillo expects all four freshmen to make key contributions over the course of their careers at Scranton.
"I love that the freshmen are all ready to play and if we didn't have four senior starters who are going to garner a lot of minutes for us, those kids would be deep and heavy into the rotation right now," said DiPillo.
Scranton will play a challenging non-conference schedule that includes three NCAA Tournament teams from last season in DeSales, George Fox and St. Vincent. DeSales advanced to the Sweet 16 a season ago.
Following the Gwynedd Mercy Tip-Off Tournament, the Lady Royals will play King's (Nov. 23) and Wilkes (Nov. 24) in the annual Cross-County Challenge that will be hosted by King's. The 2019-20 home opener is slated for Nov. 26 versus local rival Marywood.
DiPillo's club will play at DeSales on Dec. 3 and steps into Landmark Conference play with a tilt at Goucher on Saturday, Dec. 7. Following a break for final exams, the Lady Royals resume play with the Hilton Scranton Poinsettia Classic on Dec. 18 and 19 with a field that includes Elmira, Salisbury and Misericordia. Scranton hosts Rosemont on Dec. 21 before heading out to Las Vegas after Christmas to compete in the D3Hoops.com Classic with the afore-mentioned games against George Fox (Dec. 28) and St. Vincent (Dec. 30).
"The non-conference schedule allows us to see who we are and where we are. DeSales is a little bit of a local rivalry and having the opportunity to play a program with terrific history like George Fox, those are great opportunities for us to measure our progress," said DiPillo. "Getting the chance to travel cross country and play George Fox in Las Vegas is such a unique opportunity that prepares us for what we hope is a long stretch run in March."
Landmark play resumes with a championship game rematch versus Elizabethtown on Jan 11 and comprises the remainder of the slate.
Click here to view the full 2019-20 schedule.
The 2019-20 campaign promises to be an exciting one for the Lady Royals with high expectations and several key returners from last year's Final Four team.