The GW women’s basketball team won 16 of its last 17 regular-season games last year and then won four more to capture the Colonials’ first Atlantic 10 Championship in seven years. An NCAA Tournament berth followed, and GW beat the University of Oklahoma in Norman, Okla., before falling to Villanova University in the second round. The season was undoubtedly a success.
But this is a new year, and expectations are higher. Only two seniors graduated and the team’s three main stars are back. Add a highly touted freshman class and this team won’t be happy if it makes it to the second round of the NCAA Tournament. It wants to go further.
“Our goal is to win the A-10 (regular season), win the A-10 Tournament and then exceed what we did last year,” senior Cathy Joens said. “(We want to) go to at least the Sweet 16 and further, because this is our last time, our last time playing with each other.”
Joens and classmate Ugo Oha will once again lead GW’s inside-outside attack. Joens averaged 17.2 points per game last season and was named A-10 Player of the Year. She is GW’s best three-point threat and works the baseline as well as any player in the conference.
Oha has matured into one of the best centers in the A-10, and arguably the entire country. Last season, she made the A-10 Second Team All Conference and the A-10 All-Defensive Team while averaging 15.6 points, 6.6 rebounds and 2.9 blocks per game. In the A-10 Championship game, Oha scored a career-high 26 points and grabbed eight rebounds while making eight blocks.
Part of her motivation during the A-10 Tournament came from being left off the conference first team, but she said that slight has been forgotten.
“I felt that I didn’t get my respect, but I can’t dwell on being second team or first team. That’s not my goal,” she said. “My goal is to continue to play hard and be a team leader and help our team win the A-10 Championship. I just used it as a fuel to my fire.”
The team’s third star is junior Anna Monta?ana, who has developed into a premier player in the Colonials’ offense. The former Spanish National Team member is GW’s most versatile player, with the ability to run the point, drain the three and work her defenders into the paint. Her most impressive asset, though, is her court vision, as she consistently finds open teammates with remarkable passes. After GW beat Temple in the A-10 Tournament last year, Owls coach Dawn Staley called Monta?ana the key to GW’s offense.
Running the point will be senior Marshiek Witherspoon, who started last season on the bench but played her way into the starting lineup and a permanent role at point guard. Witherspoon said she hopes to be an even more integral member of the team this year.
“I have been working hard over the summer and I want to lead the team more than I did last year,” she said. “But we have played together so much (that) I know the tendencies of my teammates now.”
The Colonials’ fifth and final starting position is still up for grabs.
“We are looking at different combinations,” McKeown said. “(Senior) Val Williams and (junior) Liz Dancause give us a lot of experience, but our young freshmen have played well, too.”
McKeown said he would use the team’s exhibition game against the Tennessee Fury to try to determine the team’s fifth starter for the regular season, which will include evaluating Dancause, who was injured and saw only limited action last year. The former New Hampshire High School Player of the Year could be a key part of the Colonials’ attack.
“She can be as good as she wants to be,” McKeown said. “She’s been healthy this year, and last year (her injuries) really held her back.”
This season starts with an early test at home in the season opener against Georgetown, who beat the Colonials, 75-60, last season. Then the Colonials travel to Grand Bahama Island over Thanksgiving break to play in the Junkanoo Jam, where they will face stiff competition from Penn State, Kansas State and Arizona State universities.
GW then has several tough match-ups against big-name conference schools. They host Boston College and the University of Oregon before playing the University of Florida in Gainesville, Fla., and the University of Tennessee at home Dec. 30.
“What we are trying to do is set the team up for conference play by scheduling a difficult non-conference schedule,” McKeown said. “When you have five home games of that magnitude, you have to win your share of those games.”
McKeown said the main difficulty facing this year’s team besides their schedule will be filling the voids left by departed seniors Erica Lawrence and Lindsey Davidson.
“The biggest challenge I have is filling those next couple spots, and people have to step up,” he said. “I don’t know who those people are yet, but they will have to separate themselves in practice.”
Attempting to fill the void will be GW’s five freshmen, including Amanda LoCascio and Corrine Turner, who both hail from one of the best programs in the country, Christ the King High School in New York City.
With all of these pieces in place, the Colonials said they will not be satisfied with just winning the A-10 title and making another NCAA Tournament appearance.
“Our goal this year is to go to New Orleans (where the 2004 Women’s Final Four will be played),” Oha said. “And I think if we continue to work hard and get better, we can make that goal.”