WILMINGTON — The Atlantic 10 women’s basketball tournament at the Chase Fieldhouse in Wilmington has been a homecoming for three players on two teams. The University of Massachusetts features St. Elizabeth High School graduate Ber’Nyah Mayo and Conrad Schools of Science alumna Stefanie Kulesza.
Those two will be in action the evening of March 4, when the fourth-seeded Minutewomen take the floor against Fordham. For the other Delaware high school product, Padua Academy’s Michelle Kozicki, the tournament was a one-and-done as her La Salle University Explorers, the fifth seed, fell in the second round to No. 12 George Washington. Despite the disappointment of the quick exit, Kozicki was happy to be back in the First State.
“I didn’t realize how much I missed it until I came back,” she said after the game. “I got to see my family. It’s really nice. I just loved seeing everybody. And even though we didn’t pull out a win, it was good to come home and see my family. It was a great way to end the season.”
The crowd at the fieldhouse included her parents, Chris and Anne, along with her siblings and a few other extended family. They watched as the Explorers struggled from the field throughout most of the game, which the Colonials won, 64-54. Kozicki played two minutes, grabbing one rebound and committing one personal foul. She also took one shot from the field.
For the season, the 6-0 sophomore forward played in 22 of La Salle’s 27 games. She recorded a season high in points with 8 at Richmond, and her biggest night in terms of minutes came at Kentucky with 18. Kozicki has been encouraged by how her game has progressed in the Olney section of Philadelphia.
“I love La Salle, and I think I’m definitely growing as a player. I think it comes with maturity. College is a higher level than high school, so when you go to college, you have to learn to play a different game. I’m getting there, slowly but surely,” she said.
She said she has learned by watching teammate Kayla Spruill. The senior combo guard/forward out of Baltimore started every game for the Explorers and led the team in scoring at 16 points per game. She had 11 against George Washington in the tournament.
“Being able to kind of emulate her, I think has really helped me out. I think I’ll get there. Definitely progressing,” Kozicki said.
Mountain McGillvray, La Salle’s coach, said he was pleased with Kozicki’s progress this season. He said she returned this season better on the perimeter, and she improved her finish around the basket and her rebounding.
“Michelle is an absolute competitor. She busts it every single day. Her game continues to grow,” he said. “We’re really excited for her continued improvement. It’s going to be competitive, and that’s kind of exciting for everybody. She’s going to be one of those kids in the mix fighting for an opportunity.”
At Padua, Kozicki was a first-team all-state selection as a senior, when she led the state in scoring with 26.2 points per game. For her high school career, she scored 1,128 points for the Pandas. In addition, she was one of the state’s top volleyball players. The Pandas were state champions her senior season, although she missed the match while recovering from an injury.
Academically, Kozicki is a double major in biology and chemistry with an eye on becoming a physician’s assistant. She said she is trying to line up an internship for the summer.
“It’s really hard to balance sometimes, but other than that, it’s really good,” she said.
The Explorers, who were 16-11 in the regular season, are hoping their performance this season is good enough to earn them a date in the Women’s National Invitational Tournament. They have not been in a postseason event since 1992, when they were in the WNIT. The program made four trips to the NCAA Tournament in the ’80s.
If that happens, they’ll be back in the gym preparing for a first-round matchup. If not, they’ll take a few days off before resuming workouts, Kozicki said. They also have a summer program.
Being so close to home allows her to sneak down to Wilmington on occasion. She has a built-in reason.
“That’s my excuse, ‘Oh, I have to do laundry.’ But really it’s cooking, hanging out with my family.”
All photos by Mike Lang.