The All-Star on the Sidelines

Pitt women's basketball coach Suzie McConnell-Serio leads the lady Panthers into the ACC.




Photo by Becky Thurner Braddock
 

 

When you attend a women’s basketball game at the Petersen Events Center, keep your eyes on Suzie McConnell-Serio, the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame inductee now in her first season as head coach of the Panthers. You’ll notice a subtle yet unmistakable motion when a play unfolds in front of her: For a split-second, one leg will inch forward as she fights the instinct to rush on the court.

“Yeah, there are times that I would like to lace them up and be the point guard on the floor,” she says. “More [often] than not, I’m intense on the sidelines.”

That’s perfectly understandable. The Brookline native has played, coached and excelled at every level of women’s basketball. In high school, she won a state championship with Seton-La Salle, where she was named an All-American, after a 35-1 season in her senior campaign. She was the first woman to be named First Team All-American from Penn State University, where she led the Nittany Lions to four consecutive NCAA tournament berths and set collegiate records, including high marks for season assist average (11.8 assists per game, set in 1987) and career assists (1,307); she still holds those two records today. As a member of Team USA, McConnell-Serio won a gold medal at the Seoul Olympics in 1988 and a bronze in 1992 in Barcelona.

She began coaching at Oakland Catholic High School in 1991 but found time to make a pro comeback seven years later. In 1998, she joined the WNBA’s Cleveland Rockets, where she was named Newcomer of the Year a decade after graduating from college. Meanwhile, she was making Oakland Catholic — which opened its doors only two years before McConnell-Serio arrived — into a powerhouse. The team won three state championships during her tenure.

Taking new or struggling teams and leading them into dominance has become McConnell-Serio’s calling card as a coach. “Each place I’ve been has had its struggles,” she says. “[Oakland Catholic] was a new school. When I went to the WNBA [as a coach], Minnesota had never been to the playoffs.” The Minnesota Lynx finished with a 10-22 in 2002, their last season before McConnell-Serio’s arrival; after she took over, the team made an eight-game improvement and qualified for the playoffs for the first time.

“When I went to Duquesne, they had never been to the postseason; they had never had 20 wins in a season.” After she took over, they won 20 or more in five straight seasons, qualifying for the postseason each time. “So I’ve been in this situation before,” she says. In other words, each of the programs she’s taken over stopped struggling more or less the moment she arrived.

“I feel that the success we had at Duquesne provided the opportunity to be [at Pitt now], to coach at the highest level,” she says. “It was still tough to leave because I had a great situation. We had built Duquesne into something special.”

But the opportunity not only to join a lauded program but also lead a team into a new conference was a rare opportunity, she says. “When you look at going into [the Atlantic Coast] Conference with teams that have been in the NCAA tournament, have been to Final Fours, won [the] National Championship — competing at a high level is unbelievable.”

The opportunity didn’t come without adversity. The Panthers finished the 2011-12 season with an 8-22 record; the next year, they went 9-21. Most of the roster McConnell-Serio was inheriting was young; players with collegiate experience were going from a season of struggles to a year of more-intimidating competition.

“The first thing that we as a staff tried to do was get these players to believe in themselves,” says McConnell-Serio. “And, at the same time, develop team chemistry . . . As individuals, we saw the skill level, the talent level. [But] from day one, team chemistry on the floor has been an ongoing challenge for us. And we’re not where we want to be yet; it comes from game experience.”

Even with work to be done, this Panthers team is much different from the group that took the floor last season. For one thing, the players, who at press time barely had begun conference play, already had matched last year’s win total — including their first ACC victory, besting Virginia 79-75 on the road. They hold a winning record halfway through the season and have shown flashes of beautiful play — particularly when the ball is in the hands of standout point guard Brianna Kiesel, a junior from Utica, N.Y., who passed the 1,000-point mark for her career in December.

“Coach Serio has brought so much optimism to this team,” says Kiesel. “[She] helps everyone be a better player — and really learn the game instead of just playing it.”

“We’re comfortable having the ball in her hands,” says McConnell-Serio. “We have players [who] want to be so good and want to learn ... they come in on their day off. They want to shoot. They want to watch film. They are so eager to win, to get better.”

She is quick to praise her players from the sidelines but is known to show frustration as well. Those latter emotions come from knowing that her players can succeed. “I refuse to lower my expectations,” says McConnell-Serio. “I’ve seen it. I know what they’re capable of doing. It’s just trying to get them more consistent with being able to do it each and every game.”

She seems to know that great things are coming — and she has evidence.

“Our first road game, we went to Ball State; it was a back-and-forth game ... it came down to the end of the game, and we found a way to win,” she says. “The excitement in the locker room — just the energy that this team had ... it motivates you to experience it again. These players are hungry to be successful.”

 

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module

Edit ModuleShow Tags

Hot Reads

Top 10 Things to Do in Pittsburgh in April

Top 10 Things to Do in Pittsburgh in April

This month's best bets in the ’Burgh.
Take a Hike: 10 of the Best Trails in the Pittsburgh Area

Take a Hike: 10 of the Best Trails in the Pittsburgh Area

Lace up your sneakers or hiking boots and head outdoors for 10 great walks for spring.
412 Food Rescue: Revolutionary Repurposing

412 Food Rescue: Revolutionary Repurposing

Local nonprofit organization 412 Food Rescue is taking food that otherwise would be tossed aside and connecting it with those in need through-of-the-moment technology.
Spring Fashion: The Height of White

Spring Fashion: The Height of White

Fashion is white haute this spring with the best looks from local stores.
Edit ModuleShow Tags

The 412

Watch: Jameson Taillon's Remarkable Recovery

Watch: Jameson Taillon's Remarkable Recovery

Sports media company Whistle Sports documented Pirates pitcher Jameson Taillon's recovery workout regime.
Celebrating 75 Years: Connecting History with Community

Celebrating 75 Years: Connecting History with Community

The Heinz History Center’s World War II traveling exhibit focuses on western Pennsylvania’s ties to history.
Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy's Meg Cheever To Step Down

Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy's Meg Cheever To Step Down

The nonprofit's founding President and CEO will leave her position early next year.
Pittsburgh Pens' Spouse is ‘Hockey Wife’ On and Off Camera

Pittsburgh Pens' Spouse is ‘Hockey Wife’ On and Off Camera

After a Stanley Cup-winning season for the Pittsburgh Penguins, one player’s wife is working on her own claim to fame.
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Hot Reads

Top 10 Things to Do in Pittsburgh in April

Top 10 Things to Do in Pittsburgh in April

This month's best bets in the ’Burgh.
Take a Hike: 10 of the Best Trails in the Pittsburgh Area

Take a Hike: 10 of the Best Trails in the Pittsburgh Area

Lace up your sneakers or hiking boots and head outdoors for 10 great walks for spring.
412 Food Rescue: Revolutionary Repurposing

412 Food Rescue: Revolutionary Repurposing

Local nonprofit organization 412 Food Rescue is taking food that otherwise would be tossed aside and connecting it with those in need through-of-the-moment technology.
Spring Fashion: The Height of White

Spring Fashion: The Height of White

Fashion is white haute this spring with the best looks from local stores.
Restaurant Review: Pork & Beans

Restaurant Review: Pork & Beans

The latest restaurant from the Richard DeShantz Restaurant Group brings Texas-style smoked meats and more to Downtown.
Daytripping: Brave the Cave

Daytripping: Brave the Cave

Go subterranean at Laurel Caverns, the largest cave in Pennsylvania.
Edit Module
Edit Module

Edit ModuleShow Tags

On the Blogs


Watch: Jameson Taillon's Remarkable Recovery

Watch: Jameson Taillon's Remarkable Recovery

Sports media company Whistle Sports documented Pirates pitcher Jameson Taillon's recovery workout regime.

Comments


All the foodie news that's fit to blog
Dish Osteria and Bar To Close

Dish Osteria and Bar To Close

The beloved Pittsburgh institution will serve its last meal in April.

Comments


Not just good stuff. Great stuff.
Five Inexpensive But Memorable Date Spots in Pittsburgh

Five Inexpensive But Memorable Date Spots in Pittsburgh

These spots are tailored for couples who are looking for a simple, chill night out on Valentine’s Day (or any other day). If your significant other isn’t the type to be wooed by expensive wines and chocolates, this is the list for you.

Comments


The (Very Good) Brewery You Should Be Patronizing in Homestead

The (Very Good) Brewery You Should Be Patronizing in Homestead

Voodoo Brewery is an enticing alternative to the many chains in and around the Waterfront.

Comments


Mike Prisuta's Sports Section

A weekly look at the games people are playing and the people who are playing them.
Steelers’ Philosophy Back on Display After Hightower Flirtation

Steelers’ Philosophy Back on Display After Hightower Flirtation

Even as they entertained Dont’a Hightower for nearly seven hours during a free-agent recruiting trip to the South Side, the Steelers never lost sight of who they are or what they’re all about.

Comments


Style. Design. Goods. Hide your credit card.
Turn Your Bath into a Spa with These Oils

Turn Your Bath into a Spa with These Oils

The miniature bath- and shower-oil collection from Aromatherapy Associates makes every shower a luxury experience.

Comments


The movies that are playing in Pittsburgh –– and, more importantly, whether or not they're worth your time.
The CMU Film Fest Opens with One of 2016's Best

The CMU Film Fest Opens with One of 2016's Best

Reviews of two films appearing at the 2017 Carnegie Mellon International Film Festival: "I, Daniel Blake," and "The Eagle Huntress." Plus local movie news and notes.

Comments


Everything you need to know about getting married in Pittsburgh today.
Combating the Cold: How This Couple Pulled Off Their Winter Wedding

Combating the Cold: How This Couple Pulled Off Their Winter Wedding

Happy to see warmer weather? This gorgeous winter wedding may actually have you missing the snow.

Comments


Weekly inspiration for your home from the editors of Pittsburgh Magazine
Auction Alert: Own a Piece of Artistry

Auction Alert: Own a Piece of Artistry

Looking for a unique piece? Inventory from Artistry, which closed up shop in the Strip District after more than 25 years in business, will be sold at auction this weekend.

Comments


The hottest topics in higher education
New Club is a Hit at Thiel College

New Club is a Hit at Thiel College

The Outdoor Recreation Club becomes the newest student organization at the college.

Comments