Last year, they finished second in the Atlantic 10 Conference and second in the A-10 Tournament with a 22-10 record. While they received an at-large berth to the NCAA Tournament, they were ousted in the first round. The Colonial women hovered around the top 25 but never cracked the national rankings. The end result: the Colonials were a perpetual runner-up lacking in consistent outside shooting, an element head coach Joe McKeown dubbed his team’s Achilles heel.
This year, the return of one of the best outside shooters in the nation plus five strong shooting recruits gives the Colonials a full arsenal of offensive weapons. The team now has a strong outside game to compliment an already strong low-post game, making this year’s Colonial team a double-threat for any opposition. GW is ranked 20th by the Associated Press and is the pre-season favorite to win the A-10 West.
“We have a lot more options both down low and on the perimeter – better than what we had last year,” 6-foot junior forward Erica Lawrence said.
Not that a year with just one home loss was that bad.
Back from an ACL injury, 5-foot-11 shooting guard Cathy Joens brings an aggressive and consistent shot to the floor, an element the Colonials were missing without her. GW shot 43 percent from the floor but chose instead to utilize the low-post last season. Six-foot-four centers Ugo Oha and Elena Vishniakova both shot 45 percent from the field and averaged 10 points a game.
Without Joens, the Colonials were limited in outside scoring options. The team relied heavily on 5-foot-9 shooting guard Lindsey Davidson’s outside shooting but suffered when she missed. In the Colonials A-10 Tournament loss to Xavier, Davidson hit only three field goals in seven attempts. In the team’s first round NCAA Tournament loss to Stanford, Davidson was scoreless.
Lawrence, the team’s leading scorer last season who averaged 13.6 points a game and shot 55 percent from the floor, will continue to be a strong option on offense.
“I know we want to get Lawrence the ball,” McKeown said.
With Joens back, Davidson can focus on her assist total by clocking more minutes at the point. Davidson had 153 assists last year, second on the team behind Kristeena Alexander. A strong ball handler and on-the-court leader, Davidson should flourish at the point as she did in the two-guard spot last season.
“Davidson had a great year last year at shooting guard, but she is pretty flexible,” McKeown said. Now that Davidson has less pressure as the shooting guard, McKeown added, her shot should be more consistent and she should see a higher field goal percentage.
While the Colonials provide a deep outside-shooting threat this year, their inside game remains as strong as last season, creating threat that few A-10 teams will be able to answer.
Despite losing strong low-post players Petra Dubovcova and Leslie Carlson, the Colonials should still dominate the front court. Vishniakova and Oha combine for a lethal twosome inside the paint. They combined for 98 blocks and 311 rebounds last year, a dangerous threat to any team’s shooting percentage.
Vishniakova has a soft shooting touch inside and contributes the kind of lay-up shots needed to win games. And Vishniakova also poses a threat along the perimeter with her ability to knock down the outside jumper. She was second on the team in points (10.5) and field goal percentage (.468) last year.
Oha caught the A-10’s attention her freshman year. Honored as the A-10 Rookie of the Year, Oha led the league in blocks, setting an A-10 single season record with 76, more than eight other A-10 teams combined. She opened the season with two-straight double-doubles, earning her the first of five Rookie of the Week nominations. As dominant as she is on defense, Oha can also put up points, shooting .455 from the field and averaging 9.2 points a game.
With one year of experience behind her, McKeown expects big things from a stronger, more mature Oha this season. He expects her to continue to put up points inside, but also to open up the back-court game so shooters like Davidson, Joens and Lawrence have clear outside shots.
“She’s awesome. She’s stronger. Her attitude is terrific. She’s ready for a great year,” McKeown said. “Look out A-10, because she’s coming after you.”
Such a strong inside presence should open up the Colonials backcourt game. With defenders concentrating on the inside, Oha and Vishniakova should draw defenders away from guards Davidson, Joens and Lawrence, leaving them open for better outside shots.
The strength of the freshmen class allows McKeown to be more confident in his bench.
Six-foot-one freshmen forward Anna Montanana should clock big minutes off the bench. Previously a member of the Spanish National Team, Montanana can sink shots from the perimeter as if she were a shooting guard instead of a premier low-post player. She has seen the most time of any freshman. In last week’s exhibition game, Montanana scored three points and grabbed four rebounds.
Freshmen Liz Dancause, Kelly Wright and Greeba Outen Barlow are all making strides and are ready to contribute at the collegiate level, McKeown said.
The Colonials now have the versatility to run a variety of defenses, both man-to-man and zone. Their speed allows them to capitalize on the transition game and run the ball as often as they can. This combination of inside strength and outside production, along with a deep bench that gives the Colonials plenty of options offers GW the ability to play with the best teams. And the team will have its shot Nov. 27, when No. 2 Tennessee comes to the Smith Center.
McKeown says his team must think one day at a time, concentrating on every practice and every game and not national rankings.
“Those things (rankings) are nice by-products of a successful program,” he said. “But if you start worrying about polls, you forget where you’ve been.”