Preview:Big freshmen find bigger pond

Collectively, they have won more than 25 MVP awards, won more than 10 All-Star recognition’s and have led teams to six county and state championships. Collectively, they are ranked the sixth-best recruiting class in the nation by some reports. But now they are freshmen playing in a whole new ballgame.

GW’s recruit class must now rise to the top all over again because, as coach Joe McKeown points out, nobody cares what they did in high school.

Six-foot forward Liz Dancause knows a lot about past
accomplishments. The USA Today and Gatorade New Hampshire Player of the Year averaged 17 points and nine rebounds a game for Nashua Senior high school in Nashua, New Hampshire, while leading the Purple Panthers to their third-consecutive championship.

She should bring strong fundamentals, particularly on defense, to the GW squad in addition to being another scoring threat as a small forward. Dancause saw 6 minutes in last weekend’s exhibition, missing her one field-goal attempt. She knows how well she does this year has everything to do with her adjustment to collegiate play and nothing to do with her past accomplishments.

“Everyone in this freshmen class was a star in high school,” Dancause said. “Our past individual accomplishments mean nothing now.”

Dancause’s freshmen teammates agree that all the expectations of this recruiting class will not speak for themselves and it will take hard work to realize their potential.

“(The ranking) just means that everyone has to work hard,” Tylon Harris, a 6-foot forward from Alief, Texas said. Harris played summer ball with last year’s Atlantic 10 rookie of the year, Colonial Ugo Oha, but will red-shirt this season because of an ACL injury suffered last January. Prior to her injury, Harris averaged 21 points per game and 9 rebounds per game in high school.

“We have to continue to come out here and prove that we should be above number six,” she said, referring to the ranking.

McKeown, who has continually brought in top freshman classes, recognizes that adjustment to Division I basketball can be tough but expects his new team members to survive it. Last year, his freshman class, led by Oha, was ranked as high as 11th in at least one publication.

“The first two weeks are an interesting internship; almost like survival. Then they start playing basketball again which is what they’re good at,” he said. “It’s a big jolt, because they’re not used to walking on the floor and not dominating, that’s the challenge.”

McKeown doesn’t take credit delivering top players, but they do.

“He’s been around for a while,” Wright said. “There’s a lot of history behind GW basketball, and he’s been here for it all.” McKeown has been to the NCAA Tournament 10 times, advancing to the second round all but one time. Stanford knocked out GW and its icy offense in Norman, Okla., last year.

Harris added, “Just sitting down and watching him, I’ve learned a lot.”

Greeba Outen Barlow, a 5-foot-10 guard from Columbia, Md. agrees.

“This is a different world,” she said. “We’ve got to become good again. Or great.”

Outen Barlow was good in high school; she led the River Hill Hawks to the Howard County, Md. title, averaging 18 points and 3.1 assists per game. She finished her high school career with 1233 points. McKeown says her athleticism and superb court vision will be a great asset to the team. Last Sunday she saw eight minutes, grabbing three rebounds and one assist.

After the game, Outen Barlow admitted that the D-I challenge will be harder than she expected.

“It’s a different level. I can definitely tell by playing,” she said. “They shoot, they penetrate and they play defense,” she said.

Kelly Wright, a 5-foot-11 guard from Highlands Ranch, Co., agrees that the adjustment will take some getting used to.

“It was a lot quicker pace. It was a lot more physically intense, just another level of basketball,” she said. “A much, much higher level.”

Wright, a quick guard with sharp shooting abilities, averaged 10 points per game, 3 rebounds per game, and 3 assists per game in high school. In Sunday’s game she saw nine minutes, missing two attempts from the field.

Power forward Anna Montanana should add a consistent jumper to the Colonials this season. A 6-foot-1 freshman from Valencia, Spain, Montanana complements her strong post game with a smooth outside shot.

A previous member of the Spanish National Team, she will bring an excellent inside-outside game to the Colonials offensive arsenal. She saw the most time in Sunday’s game, playing 18 minutes. She scored three points, going 3-for-4 at the free throw line and also added four rebounds and two assists.

While the pressures of adjusting to a new level of basketball might be looming in the back of their minds, the freshmen do not show it. The newcomers are enthusiastic about their new season, new challenges, new teammates and new accolades.

“The rest of the team is awesome,” Wright said as her classmates nod in agreement. “That’s all you need to say,” Harris added with a chuckle.

“It’s not just good players, it’s good people. We all work together as a team,” Wright said.”

They know they must put the high school statistics and recruiting outlooks behind them and prove themselves on the court. But for this group of women who are used to rising to the top, just proving themselves is not enough. They want to take the team deep into the tournament, and they want to have fun doing it.

“We’ve got big ideas, and big goals,” Harris said. The huge smile on her face indicates she and her teammates look forward to rising to the top at the college level.

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