After a successful season, making it to the second round of the Big East Tournament, the women’s basketball team looks to improve even more this year with a new head coach and the addition of four freshmen.
Denise Dillon, the new head coach of the women’s basketball program, spent the last 17 years as the head coach of the Drexel women’s basketball team. Dillon, a 1996 Villanova graduate, played under head coach Harry Perretta, and is now filling the position that he held for 42 seasons.
Dillon has big shoes to fill, but she is certainly up for the challenge. Her resume is one to be admired. She is the winningest coach in Drexel history, won CAA Coach of the Year four times, won four conference championships, a WNIT championship and advanced to the national postseason four out of her last five seasons.
Not only is Dillon a tremendous coach, but she was also an impressive player in her time as a Wildcat, with 1,355 points and 677 rebounds in her career. She was a three-time All-Big 5 selection, an All-Big East honoree and is a member of the Big 5 Hall of Fame, the Villanova Varsity Club Hall of Fame and the Delaware County Athletes Hall of Fame.
The team lost three seniors, all in the starting five last season, but looks to fill those roles with the strong returning crew and four freshmen.
Kylie Swider, a 6’4” freshman from Portsmouth, R.I. and sister of men’s basketball player Cole Swider, will add some height and depth to the roster. Swider was an Adidas All-American and averaged a double-double with 17 points and 12 rebounds per game during her senior year.
After losing Bridget Herlihy and Mary Gedaka last season, the team needed to add some forwards and they did that with Swider and Lior Garzon, the second freshman forward. Garzon, one of three international students on the roster, is from Raanana, Israel. Standing at 6’1”, Garzon will be another solid option for the ‘Cats. With her experience on the Israel National Team, Garzon is a fierce competitor and will fit in perfectly with the team.
Taliyah Medina, a 6’0” freshman from Bethlehem, Pa., will add some depth at the guard position. Medina was a 1,000 point scorer and the 2020 4A Pennsylvania State Player of the year, on top of being a four-time District 11 champion, four-time Eastern Pennsylvania Conference champion and a two-time state champion. Medina’s skill set and competitive nature will help her have an impact for the ‘Cats over the next four years.
The last freshman is 5’11” guard Bella Runyan from Morrestown, N.J. Runyan was a 1,000 point scorer, as well as the second leading scorer in her high school’s history and the all time leader in assists and steals. She was a three sport captain for soccer, basketball and lacrosse and was All-League for all three sports in her last three years. Runyan’s natural athletic ability and experience with being a leader will help her find her way here at Villanova.
Sarah Mortenson, while not a freshman, will be playing her first season in blue and white. Mortenson transferred to Villanova last year from Miami but had to sit out the 2019-20 season due to transfer regulations. The ‘Cats will look to her for supplemental scoring as well as leadership.
Returning players, such as Maddy Siegrist and Raven James, will be strong players that Coach Dillon and the rest of the coaching staff will rely on this year. Siegrist had an outstanding season as a red-shirt freshman last year. Leading the team with 18 points and 8.9 rebounds per game, Siegrist was an integral part of the team’s success. She was named one of the top-10 freshmen in the country by ESPN.com, earned All-Big 5, All-Big East and was the unanimous Big East Rookie of the Year.
James started all 31 games last season, and while she only averaged 5.9 ppg, she led the team in assists and steals with 109 and 27, respectively. After losing a large percentage of scoring in the seniors last year, James will need to step up this year as a senior leader and help the team on both ends of the floor.
There are still a lot of unknowns surrounding the season, but Coach Dillon and the Wildcats will look to improve in conference play this season and advance further in the Big East Conference Tournament in order to give themselves a chance to play in the postseason at the national level.