After the GW women’s basketball team lost three of the greatest players in its history, the team figured it would have to work to earn the respect of the entire nation again.
Or maybe not. Ranked as high as 18th in the polls of several preseason publications, and with a good chance to be ranked when the Associated Press poll comes out next week, the Colonial women have been acknowledged coming into this season as a national powerhouse.
But head coach Joe McKeown isn’t one to base his team’s success on how it fares in national polls.
“Like every year, our goal is to just play our best basketball and peak at the right time of the year,” McKeown said. “You want to have a chance at the end of the year to play your best basketball, and if that happens, the winning takes care of itself. Obviously every year we want to win a championship, too, and those goals pretty much don’t change.”
This year’s squad, which is following a team that went 28-6, 16-0 in the Atlantic 10, and reached the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament, has some big shoes to fill. With seniors Tajama Abraham, Lisa Cermignano and Colleen McCrea lost to graduation, some serious gaps must be filled quickly.
“Those three were tremendous for us,” McKeown said. You don’t really replace the people who have been four-year starters. The impact they had on and off the court was tremendous.”
While the players can’t really be replaced, the team still must find substitutions for Abraham’s scoring (19.9 ppg), Cermignano’s outside shooting (43.7 percent three-point field goals), McCrea’s court savvy (5.8 apg) and the leadership all three provided.
“I hope somebody steps up to be a leader,” McKeown said. “When you have seniors, you sort of defer to them, and we don’t have any. People like Noelia Gomez, who has a lot of talent, could go out there and lead by example.”
Gomez, a 6-3 junior forward, certainly will be key to the Colonial women’s success this year. A-10 Rookie of the Year a year ago, Gomez was an integral part of last year’s squad, scoring 17.5 points per game and pulling down seven rebounds a game. This year the team will look to her to be the main source of scoring in most games.
Joining Gomez in the post this season will be 6-4 junior Khadija Deas, a serious defensive presence inside, and 6-2 Mandisa Turner, both role players last year. Despite being touted as one of the biggest teams in GW history, McKeown said his team “isn’t that big.”
“We’re not big in the sense of power,” McKeown said. “This isn’t the kind of team that will pound the ball inside. This is more of a running team.”
Pushing GW’s up-tempo style of play this season will be Chasity Myers and Marlo Egleston, two sophomores who impressed spectators as freshmen a year ago. Myers, an A-10 All-Rookie Team selection in 1997, averaged 10.3 points and 2.8 assists a game as a starter last season, and most likely will be the starter at shooting guard all season.
Egleston, who split time with McCrea at point guard last season, is the heir apparent to Cermignano as GW’s best three-point shooter and one of the best long-range shooters in the nation, according to McKeown. She hit 39 of 93 three-point attempts a year ago, while averaging 6.1 points and 3.2 assists a game off the bench.
Adding to GW’s depth at guard will be sophomore Elisa Lopez of Spain, who started at the point in GW’s exhibition victory over Denamo-Moscow.
“Between her, Marlo and Chasity, we have a lot of things that we had with Colleen, Marlo and Chasity,” McKeown said. “I am really excited about our guard play.”
Two other players from overseas also figure to have a big impact on this year’s team. Petra Dubovcova and Katarina Baskova, both from Slovakia, will probably see a great deal of playing time at a variety of positions, according to McKeown.
“Petra is very talented, and she can play three or four positions,” McKeown said. “When you are capable of doing that, you know you have to find time for her. For somebody to beat her out (for a starting position), they would have to do a great job.”
With all of the returnees from last year, and a number of new players expected to contribute, GW might have one of the deepest benches in the country.
“We are about as deep as we’ve ever been,” McKeown said. “We have a pretty good nucleus of kids that are all the same talent level. But any time you have depth, you have to use it right. You have to find chemistry and consistency.”