BBall Preview: Sophomores connect for success

Women’s basketball head coach Joe McKeown does not have to work very hard to integrate his new recruits into his team this season, because there are none. With only one senior graduating from last year’s squad, McKeown said he will concentrate on developing the young talent he has rather than adding new recruits.

The absence of new recruits on this year’s team has provided an unparalleled amount of team chemistry, players said, a key to the Colonials’ expected success this season.

“With the same players returning, you always feel like they have a chance,” McKeown said, adding he does not have to spend valuable practice time concentrating on the basics.

This allows the team to focus on more complicated defensive strategies and offensive plays because everyone on the team is used to not only GW’s style of play, but also playing at the college level.

“In high school you’re just not challenged, especially if you’re the best player on the team like (Dancause and Montanana) were.” McKeown said. “Then to come in here where everybody’s the same size, bigger, quicker, stronger – it takes a little while.”

Dancause said the initial pressure of coming in as a freshman and having to prove herself to both her teammates and her coaches is not there anymore. Now, she feels more confident in her game and around her peers. Teammate Greeba Outen Barlow also said she has developed a confidence after only one year on the team.

“I have more arrogance this year because I am no longer a freshman. I am on the same level as everyone else,” she said.

The Colonials’ depth last year hindered the freshmen’s ability to prove themselves, especially early in the season. The team returned all five starters, including then-sophomore Atlantic 10 Defensive Player of the Year Ugo Oha, then-senior Elena Vishniakova and talented then-juniors Erica Lawrence, Cathy Joens and Lindsey Davidson.

As a result, Dancause, a highly touted forward out of Nashua, N.H., averaged just over nine minutes a game last season. But when senior starter Vishniakova went down with an ACL injury halfway through the season, Dancause was able to step up, averaging 15 minutes a game in her final eight games. In those eight games, she recorded season-highs in points (10), rebounds (six) and steals (four).

Classmate Anna Montanana, an extremely talented forward out of Valencia, Spain, had a similar experience, starting in eight games in place of the injured Vishniakova. Her clutch play and superior passing skills were soon noticed around the league – as she was named to the A-10 All-Rookie team at the end of the season.

Montanana, Dancause, Outen Barlow and Harris have shown vast improvements in their game during summer practices and preseason, McKeown said, a factor that will contribute to his team’s success.

Dancause said she is looking to shoot more than she did last year. Montanana said she is excited about this year because she is more familiar with college basketball and her mentality has changed from freshman year in that she is more group – and team-oriented.

With hefty contributions from the sophomores and a lesser need to focus on technical tactics, the team is able to concentrate on an important off-court aspect of their game that many players said would be key to their success this season – team chemistry.

“We have great team chemistry on and off the court,” red shirt sophomore Tylon Harris said. Harris, who said she learned a lot while watching the game with an ACL injury last season. She was named to the A-10’s All-Rookie team this season.

“We’ve been together forever and we do everything together, and this is really going to hold us together. Our team chemistry will be our glue,” Lawrence said. “I expect a lot this year. I expect us to do very well because of the combined experience on the team.”

Players feel this confidence and chemistry gives them a good chance of going deep into the NCAA Tournament.

“If we continue to work hard (and) be enthusiastic, there is no limit to how far we can go,” Harris said. “It’s how far we believe we can go.”

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