Going undefeated in any college basketball conference in any season is a special achievement.
GW’s undefeated season in the Atlantic 10 Conference last year was one of those rare gems college basketball fans are allowed to witness.
The Colonial women finished the 1996-’97 season with an amazing 16-0 record in the A-10, culminating when head coach Joe McKeown had the win-loss total shaved in his hair.
“Last year we just played really well in February and March and got on a roll,” McKeown said. “That was unique.”
A perfect in-conference record is probably not in the cards for this season, though GW is still by far the class of the A-10. But unlike a season ago, McKeown said he thinks the conference will be a more competitive one, especially for GW, in 1997-’98.
“The conference is pretty balanced,” McKeown said. “There’s no bad team in the league. And there are definitely going to be some surprises this year.”
Here’s how the 12 teams in the A-10 stack up (in The GW Hatchet’s predicted order of finish):
West Division1.) George Washington
The Colonial women are not in danger of losing their stranglehold on the A-10 West. Even with its trio of seniors gone, GW should have little problem dispatching many of its division and out-of-division opponents.
Xavier is one of few schools in the conference that did not lose anything from last year’s team. With no seniors graduating, the Musketeers look to move up from their fifth-place finish in the division a year ago.
“Xavier and Dayton have both improved in our division,” McKeown said.
Among other players, Xavier returns Kim Hotz (9.8 ppg), an All-Rookie Team selection last season.
Dayton lost four seniors to graduation, but these were largely role players, with the exception of Steph Mathu (11.4 ppg).
The Flyers do return four of their top five scorers, including All-Rookie Team selection Christi Hester (14.4 ppg). Dayton definitely has the capacity to finish better than its record of 11-16, 6-10 in the A-10, this season.
4.) La Salle
Though hurt by the graduation of seniors, it is hard to ignore the Explorers’ 21-7 record of last season. La Salle was also semifinalist in last season’s A-10 Tournament, but repeating its second-place finish in the division will be a tough task.
La Salle particularly will miss first team All-Conference selection Chrissie Donahue (17.0 ppg).
5.) Virginia Tech
“Virginia Tech has a lot of talent this year, and they made a coaching change,” McKeown said. “They are going to be much better than they have been in the past two years.”
The Lady Hokies couldn’t have gotten much worse than last season, finishing last in the division with just four conference wins. Virginia Tech will look to All-Rookie team member Kim Seaver (13.7 ppg) to lead the team into the win column.
While many of the A-10 schools lost marquee players, the Lady Dukes still have theirs.
Senior Korie Hlede returns to lead Duquesne for this season’s campaign, and is the only returning A-10 first team All-Conference selection. Hlede has led the A-10 in scoring during all three years she’s played, and last year she put up some impressive numbers: 22.6 points per game, 7.0 rebounds per game, 4.7 assists per game and 2.5 steals per game. Teams must slow Hlede to beat Duquesne.
“She is probably the best player in the league,” McKeown said. “She’s a very talented kid. They (Duquesne) have her back, and that makes them a threat.”
Duquesne (12-16, 8-8 A-10) lost four seniors to graduation, though, and Hlede is the only senior on the young team.
East Division1.) Massachusetts
Always a dangerous team in the A-10, the Minutewomen should fight St. Joseph’s for the A-10 East.
At 18-10, 11-5 A-10, UMass finished second in the division last season, before being embarrassed in the semifinals of the A-10 Tournament by GW.
This year, UMass returns three of its top four scorers, including Kelly Van Huisen (10.4 ppg). The team will miss the play of All-Conference player Crystal Carroll (16.3 ppg) and all-time leading three-point shooter Beth Kurzmeski.
2.) St. Joseph’s
After beating GW in the A-10 Tournament last year, the Lady Hawks joined the Colonial women in the NCAA Tournament with a record of 26-5, 15-1 A-10.
St. Joe’s loses three important seniors this season, with All-Conference first team selection Megan Compain, Amy Facer and A-10 Defensive Player of the Year Milki Jones all graduated. Don’t feel bad for St. Joe’s, though.
“St. Joe’s is always a threat in the league,” McKeown said. “They have size to match our size, and they are one of the few teams that can do that.”
3.) St. Bonaventure
The Bonnies return five seniors and four juniors from last season’s team, which placed third in the division. Even experience probably won’t help St. Bonaventure reach the next echelon in the A-10 East, though.
Fordham probably doesn’t have what it takes to move up in the division, especially after losing second team All-Conference selection Suzanne Maguire.
5.) Rhode Island
The Lady Rams probably will finish near the bottom of the division again, considering the loss of Tasha King (17.0 ppg). Junior forward Jamie Gray (13.8 ppg) should help the team from sinking too far.
Things look bleak for the Lady Owls, who lose five seniors and two starters from last year’s team – and that team finished with just four in- conference wins. Temple will find it hard to replace forward/center Alkanese Garrett (13.2 ppg).