All players get the same treatment when they enter Denise Dillon’s program.

Whether it was over her 17 seasons leading the Drexel women’s basketball team or after she moved across town in Philadelphia to coach at Villanova for the past four years, the evaluation process hasn’t changed.

“I’ve really been consistent in my career in pinpointing those players, those freshman, who just have the right mindset in order to contribute early,” Dillon said.

Maddie Webber has proven to be no exception to that rule.

A three-year starter and two-time all-state selection at South Fayette who led the Lions to consecutive WPIAL Class 5A championships and the first appearance in the PIAA title game in school history, Webber has transitioned to play meaningful minutes this season as a freshman at Villanova.

“When a player is ready, I don’t care what year they are,” Dillon said. “Maddie, again, just has that mentality of what do you have for me, what do I need to do, a willingness to learn each and every day and get better. It was really a no-brainer.”

After shaking off an ankle injury early in the season, Webber has appeared in 13 games for the Wildcats – averaging 23.5 minute per game. She is third on the team in scoring with an average of 7.8 points per game to go along with her 3 rebounds per game, 7 assists, 7 steals and 3 blocks.

Webber said she has had to adjust to coming off the bench following one of the most successful careers in South Fayette history but is pleased with her role early on as a member of a team that currently trails only Connecticut and St. John’s in the Big East Conference standings a year after going 30-7 and advancing to the Sweet 16 in the NCAA tournament.

“I would say at first the transition was definitely hard, but I know that my coaches trust me and I trust the process,” said Webber, who was the 2022-23 Pittsburgh Union Progress Player of the Year. “I just let it all come to me. I just came in with an open mind, knowing that I have to come in, learn every day, and some days are going to be harder than others, but in the end it will all be worth it.”

Villanova freshman guard Maddie Webber, a South Fayette graduate, is the Wildcats third-leading scorer and provides a spark off the bench in her first NCAA Division I season. (Courtesy of Villanova athletics)

Webber racked up 1,387 career points and nearly two dozen Division I offers to become one of the WPIAL’s most coveted recruits in recent history, while leading the Lions to a 51-8 record over her final two seasons at South Fayette. She averaged a team-high 17.3 points per game as a senior last winter, and also chipped in 4.2 rebounds, 3 assists and 3 steals per game.

“I would say my role is not as big as it was, obviously, because at South Fayette I was the person all the offense ran through,” said Webber of transitioning to NCAA Division I basketball. “I feel like here, I am definitely a contributor to the team. I honestly like coming off the bench, being a spark for the team and being able to come in, get buckets, play good defense and just help in general just on the court.

“I’m not going to take over, but I’m always going to be there and someone the team can rely on.”

It’s the kind of role Dillon said she envisioned while recruiting Webber and certainly once the 5-foot-11 guard enrolled at Villanova.

“She’s just an all-around great person, and I couldn’t be happier to have her as part of the program,” Dillon said. “Every day she’s so consistent in who she is and her personality and is a great teammate. As a player, she’s extremely comfortable.”

Dillon said Webber’s consistency and “great basketball instincts” have been critical to her quick development.

“We run a read-and-react offense, and she does it extremely well,” Dillon said. “She takes what the defense gives her. If they’re up on her, she’s going to put it on the floor to create something for her teammates or herself.”

Webber has made 36% of her shots from the field, is shooting 32% from 3-point range and is making 74% of her attempts from the free-throw line.

“You talk about being a position-less player, she’s an ideal guard,” Dillon said. “She’s long. She can shoot the ball. She’ll guard anybody. You say in the game of basketball it’s dribble, pass and shoot. It sounds simple, but not all players can do those three things well and she does.”

Webber said she is working to be more assertive on the offensive end of the court.

“I feel like coming in I was very hesitant on offense, but now I’m starting to find my shot and not over complicate it like I was at the beginning,” Webber said. “I’m able to get more shots when I fake, especially 3s, and I’m definitely working on my pull-up game a lot more, trying to incorporate that a lot more, because I feel like that’s such a big part of the college game.”

With continued development, Webber said she has high expectations for the rest of her freshman season.

“Throughout the season I definitely just want to keep being a big contributor to the team and hopefully be Rookie of the Week sometime for Big East and also make the all-rookie team,” she said. “Those are definitely goals for me.”

Dillon is also excited about the prospects of Webber’s future at Villanova.

“Maddie definitely has the ability of an all-conference player, and, again, I can say that because that’s her goal as well,” Dillon said. “We have the vision of what we think a player can do, and how far they can go, and when that’s the goal an individual sets, you can guide them and help them attain that. Maddie certainly has that skill set, talent and work ethic to be one of the top guards in the league as she grows and matures in the game.”

Webber said she is also grateful for the continued recovery of one of her best friends and former South Fayette teammate, Ava Leroux.

A freshman forward at Division I Elon, Leroux was placed in the intensive-care unit following a near-fatal car accident Dec. 22 while she was home for the holidays.

“I visited her on Christmas before I left, so that was really nice,” Webber said. “She’s at home now. She’s doing a lot better. I’m really grateful for that. I got to see her family as well.”

Webber said she is excited to see her friend make a full recovery from her injuries.

“It was definitely hard especially having to visit her on Christmas and then leave the next day and not know how well she is,” Webber said. “It was definitely hard on me the first two days, but then being able to talk to her and then hear that she was able to go home so soon, it boosted my spirits a lot.”

John is a copy editor and page designer at the Post-Gazette, but he's currently on strike. Email him at

John Santa

John is a copy editor and page designer at the Post-Gazette, but he's currently on strike. Email him at