When Seton Hall University women’s basketball kicks off play in the Big East Tournament on Saturday, the players come in with a sense of purpose to qualify for the NCAA Tournament. The Pirates finished regular season play 14–6 (12–5 in conference play), which is testament to their resilience and determination in an incredibly challenging season with several COVID-related bumps in the road.

Several players on the team and assistant coaches tested positive for COVID-19. Shortly before Division I basketball season kicked off, head coach Anthony Bozzella spent five days in the hospital due to COVID-19. Once recovered, Bozzella was back coaching.

Thankfully, the coaching staff and the players are feeling better and testing negative. The players are focused and playing some dynamic basketball. Bozzella appreciates a recent addition to the team, graduate student guard Andra Espinoza-Hunter, who is the Pirates’ leading scorer.

“We’ve done really, really well,” said Bozzella. “We’re playing great. We had our third pause because an opponent had the virus, so they shut us down for seven days again. … We played OK coming out of it. [Our win over] Xavier (108–65) was probably one of our best games of the year.”

Bozzella admitted that this season—with COVID testing, pauses, postponements and some illness—has been mentally hard on the players. The isolation due to remote learning and the lack of interaction with friends and family have been challenging. “We want to finish the season strong,” Bozzella said.

Beyond the impressive number of wins, Bozzella is proud that Seton Hall led University of Connecticut at halftime in their second conference meeting of the season before UConn achieved the win. “It’s been one of my most enjoyable teams because they fought through so much adversity,” Bozzella said.

Some players have truly stepped up, among them senior guard Desiree Elmore and sophomore guard Lauren Park-Lane, both of whom have earned Big East honors. In the game against Xavier, Park-Lane set a school record of 15 assists. Bozzella said she has enormous heart and desire.

“Elmore is playing great and we actually expect her to come back next year because the NCAA has granted this year as a free year,” said Bozzella. “She’s had such a good jump each year that she plays. One more year will put her over the top in terms of being able to be drafted. … She does a little of everything and makes everything great.”