Ahead of Senior Night, Dorka Juhász and Lou Lopez Sénéchal reflect on unique journeys to UConn, experience playing for historic program

Back in Pécs, Hungary, a young Dorka Juhász used to watch black-and-white VHS tapes of her mother, Hajnalka Balazs, competing in games throughout her playing career. Juhász would go on to play for the same club her mother did, before three seasons at Ohio State, and the last two at UConn as the first Hungarian player to take the court for the Huskies.

Lou Lopez Sénéchal was growing up in Grenoble, France at the time, after spending the first five years of her life in Guadalajara, Mexico. She would start playing basketball for her hometown club at eight years old, before eventually going to a basketball academy in Ireland, then Fairfield for four seasons, and now this last year at UConn.

Both of their globe-trotting careers will be celebrated on Monday in a senior night celebration before the Huskies (25-5, 17-2 Big East) face Xavier (7-21, 0-19 Big East) in the last game of the regular season.

“It’s always special to share senior night with someone else,” Lopez Sénéchal said. “For both of us it’s gonna be our second time, so I think it’s kind of a sign to finally get closure with college. We’re very excited about it.”

Dorka Juhász

Juhász will take part in her second senior night at UConn on Monday night. This will be the first with her parents in attendance, though, as they weren’t able to come to Storrs from Hungary last year.

“I’m super excited,” Juhász said. “It’s just the picture perfect ending that they’re able to make it.”

The last time Juhász played in front of her mother, who she describes as her role model and inspiration to play basketball from the start, in person was back during her sophomore year at Ohio State. Coincidentally enough, it was a game against the Huskies.

That doesn’t mean she isn’t watching though. Juhász’s mother makes a point to stay up to watch UConn games on her computer, even if that means tuning in from 2 to 4 a.m. with the time difference.

“She’s always been in my corner, always been my biggest supporter and also obviously biggest critc,” Juhász said. “She wants me to know that she’s there for me throughout it all. Every time I would just get on a court, get injured or something, she’s been home stressing, calling me, all of that. So I don’t know where I would be without her.

“I’m just so excited for her to be here for obviously the last regular season game … being there with the fan base and just her feeling that support that I’ve been getting from the fans. She already knew that I’m in great hands, everybody cares about me, all the fans care about me, but now she’s gonna be able to see how much people love me here. So I think it’s gonna be a very special moment.”

This won’t be Juhász’s family’s first time in Storrs, though. They came over to provide support after Juhász suffered a gruesome wrist injury in the Elite Eight last season.

The 6-foot-5 forward already wanted to come back for another season at that point, but the injury put an “exclamation mark” on the decision.

Juhász has grown a lot since then. She’s shown off more versatility and has focused on how she can have a bigger impact on every facet of the game. On the season, Juhász is averaging 14.3 points, 10.0 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game for the Huskies.

Head coach Geno Auriemma said the biggest difference is Juhász’s confidence and comfortability playing in UConn’s system. She’s even been more vocal in huddles in recent weeks. All while battling a nagging ankle sprain.

“Being here, growing as a player and as a person just so tremendously in these past two years, just being challenged like I was never challenged in my whole life, I think those are the values (that are) very, very special. I don’t think I would trade this whole experience for nothing.

“Just reflecting back for these two years and even my Ohio State years, I’ve grown so much and I learned so many life lessons. Becoming more independent, learning a whole different culture, being in America by myself, it’s just been awesome and I’m very happy that you know as a 17 year old I was making this decision to come here.”

Lou Lopez Sénéchal

When she was honored on Fairfield’s senior night with her family in attendance last season, Lopez Sénéchal knew she had one year of eligibility remaining, but no clue where it would be spent.

To end up joining a historic program like UConn was a surreal experience for Lopez Sénéchal in and of itself. A late bloomer, she had to go to great lengths to even wind up playing at a Division I program in the states.

After around 11 years of playing for her club team in Grenoble, France, Lopez Sénéchal joined a basketball academy in Ireland to improve her recruitment chances. Lopez Sénéchal and her stepdad then sent out video reels to schools across the United States looking for an opportunity to play at the next level.

“Shame on us and the rest of the country that didn’t know who she was,” Auriemma said. “You have players like that, that they just need a place to showcase themselves. This was her place. And she does it in such a team way that it just fits seamlessly.”

Lopez Sénéchal didn’t have any expectations when she arrived in Storrs. She was prepared to take on any role the Huskies needed, and with all the talent the program had at that time no one could have envisioned she’d play the role she has this year.

With injuries across the roster, Lopez Sénéchal has stepped up as one of UConn’s go-to scorers. She’s averaging 16.0 points and 3.1 rebounds per game on the season while shooting 44.5% from 3-point range.

“She’s probably played more man to man, she’s faced better competition on a regular basis, more scenarios defensively then she’s had to see for the previous four years, more minutes probably than she’s ever played at this pace at this level, and yet you come out and the numbers are probably exactly the same,” Auriemma said. “The difference in Lou this year than last year is she just had a bigger stage to play on and now more people in America know who she is. And that’s a great thing for her because I think that’s what she deserves.”

Though it might appear seamless, Lopez Sénéchal said it’s been one of the toughest seasons she’s been a part of. The workload has especially taken its toll in recent weeks, with Auriemma opting to have her rest in practice due to soreness.

“I definitely have become more competitive,” Lopez Sénéchal said. “It’s true that here the challenges is higher, the pressure is higher. I knew that it was going to be like that and I knew that it was going to be a very quick turnaround for me, you know, have to adapt to everything very quickly if I wanted to play this year and only for one season. So I knew I had to be mentally ready to for all that.”

Lopez Sénéchal repeatedly remarked about how special of an experience it’s been to be a part of the UConn program this season. It’s hard for her to believe that it’s already almost coming to a close.

“It’s almost like I don’t want to leave either,” Lopez Sénéchal said. “I want to have more time, have more time with my teammates … I tried to really enjoy all those little moments because it’s not something that’s going to happen again next year for me. So it’s definitely a different type of year. And I’m excited to even in a few months just think about it again and kind of see what the whole journey was.”

What else to know for the game:

Site: Gampel Pavilion

Time: 7 p.m.

Series: UConn, 6-0

Last meeting: No. 5 UConn 73, Xavier 37 on on Jan. 5, 2023 in Cincinnati

TV: CBS Sports Network; Jason Horowitz (play-by-play), Julianne Viani (analyst)

Streaming: CBS Sports App

Radio: UConn Sports Network on 97.9 ESPN