With two preseason All-American candidates, the GW women’s basketball team knew they had the talent. With five returning starters, strong senior leadership and no new freshmen, they knew they had the chemistry. With a preseason top 25 ranking and a strong pre-conference schedule, they knew they had the chance. Click for image
In November, the 2002-03 season seemed full of potential for the Colonial women. They just had to prove it to themselves. On March 10, in front of a home crowd of 1,382, they did. The team beat Rhode Island for their first Atlantic 10 Championship title in seven years.
“That championship game where all the students came out, that meant so much to our team,” head coach Joe McKeown said in a post-season interview. “This is their school … that was such a great night for our kids. And then for them to storm the floor, it felt like a football game and we just kicked the winning field goal … that was the most fun we’ve had all year.”
The team went on to the NCAA Tournament, defeating the lower-seeded Oklahoma University on the Sooners’ home court, a big moral victory for a team that expected a higher tournament seed and a game at nearby Penn State or Old Dominion.
The team’s eventual loss to second-seeded Villanova in the second round ended the Colonials’ season, but did not dampen their hopes.
“If you told me that (we’d lose in the second round of the tournament) on January third, I would have hugged you. I would have thought, ‘Wow, what a comeback,'” McKeown said.
In mid-December, McKeown was traveling around the country on a recruiting trip, telling high school coaches “we’re good, watch out for us.” But four straight losses later, those same coaches were calling him up, asking what happened. While the team got back in the win column come conference play in January, McKeown called his team’s play “unexpected,” as sloppy play “really drove (him) crazy.”
But in February, GW “got the ship right” and tallied 16 conference wins, blemished only by a quadruple overtime loss at Xavier Feb. 9. The team beat UMass 65-59 in overtime the next game, showing their strength, McKeown said.
“The four overtime game was a test of will and character… it showed me a lot because they easily could have been beaten that night, but our kids hung together. Anytime we had adversity this year, this team came together rather than split apart. I think that’s the sign of a great basketball team.”
Next season the team will lose a starter in Lindsey Davidson and a team leader in Erica Lawrence, both seniors, but the Colonials will retain A-10 Player of the Year Cathy Joens and the A-10 Tournament’s Most Outstanding Player, Ugo Oha. McKeown will fill the open spots with the No. 18 recruiting class in the nation, including Corrine Turner and Amanda Locascio from Christ the King High School in Flushing, N.Y. But could next year be the year?
“The potential is there,” McKeown said. “You don’t want to label teams before the year even gets under way. But when you have the Conference Player of the Year and the Tournament MVP … you feel pretty good going in that you can compete.”
-Jeff Nelson contributed to this report.