Duquesne's coaching staff came together after many calls and recommendations. Photo courtesy of Duquesne University Athletics

Duquesne women's basketball: Coaching staff Q&A

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Once a new head coach is hired, it can be tough to find the right staff. However, Duquesne women’s basketball head coach Dan Burt balanced it out to fill his staff.

“Before hiring coaches, I sat down and talked with important stakeholders within our program, that being: our players, our student assistantmanagers, our athletic director and our administration and really learned about what we could do to go from good to great,” Burt said in an exclusive interview.

“We had some interesting comments, especially from our players. That process took about two weeks and after that it was data collection, reviewing that and finding the people that best fit what we wanted to do.

“I had anywhere between 700 and 800 different emails, texts and conversations with people either promoting themselves or someone else for a coaching position with us. I feel very fortunate about the people I have on staff.”

Here is a breakdown of the staff:

Matt Schmidt

The man that Burt calls his “offensive coordinator,” Schmidt rejoins his fellow West Liberty State alum after a five-year stint as head coach at Armstrong Atlantic State University, located in Savannah, Ga.

How do you feel about having the opportunity to work with Duquesne? – “It’s a great institution with a great college basketball program. I’ve known Coach Burt for 16 to 20 years now. An opportunity to work in the A-10 and with young people like this team is an opportunity you can’t pass on.”

What did it mean to you upon getting the phone call from coach Burt? – “It makes you feel good when you get that phone call. We’d talked about wanting to work together for a long time. We work well together.”

How do you think the team has adjusted? – “The expectations are set high and they attain it most days, not every day but most days. Winning championships takes hard work every day. We’ve got a good group of people and good leadership. Every day is going to be a battle and hopefully it carries into the games.”

What is the best advice you ever received? – “The best advice I ever received came from Nancy Winstel (head coach at Northern Kentucky, where Schmidt was a top assistant for four seasons). She said ‘be true to yourself and treat everyone with respect.'”

Eddie Benton

There may not have been someone who campaigned harder for a spot on Burt’s coaching staff than Benton. Benton was formerly an assistant at Saint Francis University, La Roche College and the Robert Morris men’s team.

How badly did you want to coach at Duquesne? – “I may have called 15 people to call on my behalf to tell them how dedicated I was, how hard I worked and how loyal I am. I just wanted [Burt] to hear that from a lot of different people.”

Did you ever think having so many people call could backfire? – “I never looked at it to a point to where it was going to be a problem. I just wanted it to be in his head that this guy works hard and is relentless from the recruiting standpoint. I wanted him to know what kind of person he was dealing with.”

How proud are you to be at Duquesne? – “To be a part of the staff at Duquesne with all of the success from the past five years, the proof is there. This is a big-time program. I couldn’t ask for a better situation.”

Burt on Benton: “A lot of people in the community were mentioning Eddie’s name, and he had some people calling. I finally just had to tell Eddie that he didn’t have to have anyone else call. I kind of had a good idea. Eddie has a grinder mentality and works very hard. That came across in his interview and wanting to get an interview. It definitely came across since he’s been on the staff.”

Rachel Wojdowski

Wojdowski was Burt’s first hire. She was at his press conference upon being hired and was considered a “no-brainer.” Wojdowski is in her first season as an assistant coach after being the director of basketball operations for the previous three years.

Wojdowski was a walk-on for Duquesne in 2001 after graduating from Bethel Park High School; she averaged 17.6 points per game and 10.7 rebounds per game for the Dukes despite tearing her ACL the previous year. Following her season at Duquesne, Wojdowski transferred to UNC Wilmington, playing for Burt who was an assistant. She re-injured her ACL and finished her collegiate career at New York University averaging 16 points per game.

Wojdowski had a five-year playing career overseas which included time in Belgium, Bulgaria, Germany, Holland and Luxembourg. She was an assistant coach at Peters Township High School before reuniting with Burt at Duquesne.

Wojdowski also has spent time as a wide receiver for the Pittsburgh Passion of the Women’s Football Alliance and was named a first-team All-American after catching 17 passes for 350 yards and eight touchdowns.

“This is definitely one of my dreams,” Wojdowski said in an interview with Chelsea Zahn for the Pittsburgh Passion. “My goal was to become an NCAA Division-I coach, and I’m very fortunate to find myself in the position that I am.”

Cherie Lea

Cherie Lea is the team’s director of basketball operations. Lea played for Burt at UNC-Wilmington and was called “the best player I ever coached” by Burt. Lea was a two -ime Colonial Athletic Association first team all-conference, named CAA Preseason Player of the Year in her final college season and was team captain her last two seasons. She went on to play overseas for five years in Holland and Luxembourg where she was a two time Dutch League MVP. She was previous a head coach for Bartlett Yancy High School.

What does it mean for you to be hired at Duquesne? – “I wanted to be back in college basketball so this is a realization of a dream.”

What was your first reaction when you got the call? – “It was shocking actually. I was coaching a high school soccer game and he called me in the middle of it. I picked up the phone and he told me that he would love to have me on the staff and wanted to know what I thought. I was speechless for a little while and then the excitement came in.”

In the middle of a soccer game? – “He never really calls me, so when he called I thought that something must have been wrong, so I picked up.”

What was it like playing for Ccach Burt? – “I transferred into UNC Wilmington and just coming in, he’s been a very personable coach, easy to talk to and easy to get along with. You could bring anything to him and he’d give you advice. It’s a great opportunity and I enjoyed playing for him. He’s very enthusiastic about the game and intense. His passion was to recruit great players.”

How does your experience with Burt help you with the players? – “I can be a bridge that I can explain things to the girls because I’ve been there and know him as a person.”

Burt on Lea: “Cherie is the best player I ever coached and I knew that she would be able to adapt quickly and take on the job and be very good at it because when I coached her she was the scholar-athlete of the year for all sports at UNC Wilmington, was a mathematics major with a CPA license and has a masters in accounting. Along with that, was very dedicated to the weight room as well as her academics. You always love when someone puts on their resume that they led the team in taking charges.”

Jade Singleton

Singleton returns to her alma mater and will serve as the head student manager. Singleton was named team captain of Duquesne in 2008, her senior season, and led the team with 202 rebounds while averaging 8.9 points per game. Singleton taught fourth through sixth grade reading, language arts and reading for in the Duquesne City school district while coaching seventh and eighth grade basketball at Duquesne City. In 2009, she was hired as an assistant with Oakland Catholic High School.

What did getting the call mean to you? – “I love the game. I’ve been coming to the games since I graduated. It’s a program that once I became a part of it, stuck with me. I still wanted to be here. When Dan called me to ask if I wanted to work with the team I told him I would love to.”

How does being a teacher help you with this role? – “I’m very organized in a teaching manner. A lot of people know things but have a hard time getting it through to the players or students. Being a teacher and learning how to break things down will make it easier.”

What is the best advice you ever received? – “Go after what you want. Ultimately I want to coach college basketball. If you want it bad enough, you’ll go for it.”

What does Duquesne mean to you? – “Duquesne’s like a family. It’s given me a career and keeping me active. It’s just a bunch of good people.”

Burt on Singelton: “I was very fortunate to hire Jade Singleton. She was a former player here and spent five years as a high school coach and teacher. To get a full-time teacher with that type of experience to be my graduate assistant, I feel fantastic about. She’s paid big dividends already.”

Of note: Marissa Manko, who graduated earlier this year from Slippery Rock University, was named graduate manager. Manko had internships with event planning in addition to the Tulsa Shock of the WNBA. Her role will include social media in addition to marketing.

Debbie Moore will serve as the team’s athletic trainer for a second season while Dennis Cuturic serves as strength and conditioning coach for the fourth season. Monica Chmiel and Megan Marshall both are student managers.

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