A Year in Review: The Defining Moments of the 2019-2020 Women's Basketball Season

The 2019-2020 season marked the final season of Head Coach Harry Perretta’s 42-year coaching career at Villanova. It was a season marked by injuries, but also by the emergence of young stars. It was a season where seniors flourished, and the team used energy and heart to earn many milestones. The Wildcats ended the season 18-13, with a 11-7 record in Big East play. In a magical last home weekend for Perretta, the ‘Cats won the final two games at the Pavilion against the top two teams in the Big East. 

The team earned a seven seed in the conference tournament, despite landing in a five-way tie for third place. In the first round, ‘Nova defeated Xavier in OT before falling to No. 2 Marquette in the semifinals. A likely WNIT game was canceled before it even existed, as the coronavirus pandemic shut down all further postseason play. Despite a disappointing end, there were many highlights throughout the season that deserve recognition. Here are the awards for the Most Valuable Player, Most Improved Player, Offensive Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year in 2019-2020. In addition, an OT thriller over St. John’s, and a home win over the twelfth team in the nation, earn appreciation as the most important, and most exciting, wins of the season. 

MVP: Mary Gedaka

At the end of her junior season, Mary Gedaka earned a second team All Big-East selection, averaging a team-high 14.4 points and 6.8 rebounds. Her elite shooting percentage, .661 from the floor, earned her a third place ranking in all of Division 1 in that category. In her senior season, Gedaka, the embodiment of Villanova Women’s Basketball, aimed to increase her game in each category. 

The senior captain was named to the All Big-East first team after averaging 17.4 points per game, 7.0 rebounds, 3.0 assists and a team-high 38.5 minutes. She shot a team high 47.8% from the field, and started all 31 games for the Wildcats. Gedaka was named Big East Player of the Week twice, Philadelphia Big 5 Player of the Week three times and earned a spot on the Big East Weekly Honor Roll twice. She totaled 29 double digit scoring games this season, giving her 82 in her collegiate career. She also had eight double-doubles, and 15 for her career. Gedaka registered a double-double in both conference tournament games this season. During the Big East Tournament, Gedaka moved in 6th place on Villanova’s all-time scoring list with 1,555 points. Her mother, Lisa Angelotti, ranks fifth with 1,622 points.  

Most Improved: Bridget Herlihy

At the beginning of the season, Villanova struggled to find a third scorer. By the end of conference play, Herlihy was a lethal weapon for the Wildcats. The team was 9-4 in games where Herlihy scored 10+ points. She finished the season averaging 9.3 points per game, with 5.1 rebounds and a team-high 1.7 blocks. 

The ‘Cats heavily relied on the senior as the season went on, and Herlihy scored a season-high 22 points in the final game of the season, a 61-47 loss to Marquette in the Big East Tournament. Her minutes per game increased as her confidence grew, and as multiple facets of her game improved. Herlihy finished with 56 free throw attempts, third on the team, and 145 three-point attempts, second on the team. Her versatility to drive to the basket, and her accuracy from beyond the arc, positioned herself as an offensive catalyst. 

Offensive Player of the Year: Maddy Siegrist

In her first season of play as a Wildcat, Siegrist posted one of the most prolific freshman seasons in Villanova history. During the regular season, she led the Big East in 20-point games (14) and double-doubles (11). She also led the team in scoring and rebounding, averaging 18.8 points per game and 8.9 rebounds per game, while shooting 45.6% from the floor. She finished second in the Big East in both scoring and rebounding. 

Siegrist scored in double figures in 28 of 31 games this season, and set the Villanova freshman record for points in a season with 553. She broke the record set by Shelly Pennefather, 504 points, in 1983-1984. During the season, Siegrist was named the Big East Rookie of the Week ten times, tying the record for the most league awards in that category. Additionally, she was named the U.S. Basketball Writers Association Tamika Catchings Freshman Player of the Week two times in the first six weeks of the season. She became the first Villanova freshman to earn a spot on the All Big-East first team, and along with being named to the All-Freshman Team, she was a unanimous pick for Big East Rookie of the Year.

Siegrist’s most memorable performance came in an away game against La Salle, where she scored the second most points in Villanova women’s basketball history. Siegrist’s 41-point performance was a combination of six three-pointers and a 9-10 effort from the foul line. Her scoring total created a new record for points by a freshman, and was the most points scored by a Big East player since 2013. 

Defensive Player of the Year: Cameron Onken

Cameron Onken’s name will go down in Villanova women’s basketball history. In the final home game of the season, Onken recorded the second triple-double in school history. She finished with 12 points, 18 rebounds and 10 assists against no. 12 Depaul. This game embodied the versatility of her game. Onken was the hardest worker on the court, and the team hype-man. 

She finished the season with 3.3 points per game, 6.8 rebounds, and 3.0 assists. While her numbers may not jump off the page, her energy does. Onken averaged nearly two offensive rebounds per game, and her clutch three-point shots came at crucial moments for the Wildcats. Her voice was heard the loudest after every loose ball was secured, after every and-one was converted, and after every three-pointer hit. The 5’10 guard outrebounded nearly every opponent she was matched up against, and that defensive work turned into offensive production.

Most Important Win: 66-64 OT win over St. John’s for the second time this season

On Jan. 5, the ‘Cats defeated St. John’s on the road in OT, 67-62. Less than a month later, on Jan. 31, the ‘Cats preservered through a second OT thriller with the Red Storm, once again coming out victorious. The 66-64 victory improved ‘Nova’s record to 12-9 on the season, with a 6-4 record in conference play. The win carried special weight, as St. John’s was one of the five teams tied for third at the end of the season. 

Siegrist hit a jumper with 3.5 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter to tie the game at 56, and St. John’s’ Alissa Alston buzzer-beater attempt fell short, sending the teams to overtime. Coincidentally, teams were sent to overtime tied at the same score, 56-56, at the end of regulation in the first game of the series. Key three-pointers in OT from Onken and James helped the team gain the high-intensity win. Siegrist scored a team-high 22 points, while Gedaka tallied a double-double with 16 points and 13 rebounds. Onken scored nine points on three three-pointers, and Sam Carangi scored eight points off the bench. 

Most Exciting Game of the Season: 76-58 win over No. 12 Depaul on Senior Night

In Head Coach Perretta’s final regular season home game, the ‘Cats honored their seniors, Onken recorded the second triple-double in program history, Siegrist set the single-season freshman scoring record, and the team knocked off the 12th ranked team in the nation, 76-58. The win marked a weekend sweep of the top two teams in the Big East, including a win over Marquette two days prior. 

Onken finished with 12 points, 18 rebounds, and 10 assists, Siegrist added 29 points and 13 rebounds, Gedaka scored 17 points, and Raven James dished a career-high nine assists. A 13-2 run early in the fourth quarter allowed ‘Nova to gain its largest, and final, lead over Depaul. With just under a minute to go in the game, Gedaka, Herlihy and Onken, the three seniors, exited the game to a huge roar from the largest home crowd of the season.

Thank you, Coach Perretta:

Despite the disappointing end to a promising postseason, Perretta’s legacy will never be forgotten at Villanova. The relationships he made, the culture he created, and the talent he nurtured cemented his reputation as one of the pioneer coaches of women’s basketball. During his time at Villanova, Perretta had twenty, 20-win seasons, 11 NCAA Tournament appearances, 11 WNIT berths, five Big East Championships and 18 Big 5 titles. His 42 seasons as head coach tie him with Yvonne Kaufmann for the most seasons at one school in NCAA women’s basketball history. He ends his career with 783 wins, which ranks him seventh on the winningest active Division I collegiate coaching list and 13th all-time in NCAA Division I women's basketball.