Column: A re-birth for women’s squad

I really hate to say this, but the GW women’s basketball team has been given a raw deal so far this school year. As practices began Oct. 16, the women’s team did not appear to garner the same attention as in years past.

However, the outlook is not bleak for the one of the University’s most consistently strong squads. Sure, replacing Cathy Joens, Ugo Oha, Marshiek Witherspoon and Valerie Williams is not an easy task for this program, but they have rebuilt before.

Head coach Joe McKeown was prepared for this. He recruited knowing that the Colonials would lose some of the most dominant players in program history. They have retooled and are a team equipped to play solid basketball.

“I am impressed with everyone’s attitude right now,” McKeown said.

Freshman guards Sarah-Jo Lawrence, Kimberly Beck and Lisa Steele could help make up for Joens, who was the Colonials’ main scoring threat for the better part of four seasons.

Despite the Colonials’ rebuilding efforts, a college basketball season is still judged in wins, losses and in GW’s case, tournament berths.

In McKeown’s 15 years, the Colonials have made the NCAA Tournament 11 times. Last year, GW earned a trip to the Big Dance, but fell in the first round to De Paul.

Can this year’s team repeat last year’s 22-8 record and win the A-10 West? Who knows, but the expectations are not there yet.

They don’t have to live up to the hype to be successful. Even with a young team, early practices show that the Colonials are quick and athletic – two traits that have been staples of McKeown’s program over the years.

One Colonial who will be thrust directly into the action and must perform is center Jessica Simmonds. After playing two seasons at Providence College, she transferred to GW and sat all of last year, but she made her presence felt.

Watching several practices last season, it appeared that no one screamed louder and got in the face of Oha more than Simmonds. She could be the defensive backbone that this young team needs.

Last fall, New York City’s Christ the King High School sent McKeown a package that included forward Corrine Turner and guard Amanda LoCascio. When on the court last year, Turner used her slashing style to add another dimension to the GW offense.

With all the talk of rebuilding, one mainstay has been senior forward Anna Monta?ana. She is unquestionably the team leader, and is the kind of player who can carry a team on her back.

Her offensive skills are probably unmatched in the conference. She can pass, shoot and drive. It’s safe assumption that without her prowess, Joens and Oha would not have had the chance to score so many points.

Many people, including McKeown and Temple coach Dawn Staley, have described her as fearless, gritty, passionate, and a person who has the most well-rounded basketball game they have seen, almost a female version of Magic Johnson. As a forward, she averaged more than five assists per game, tops in the A-10.

With all these pieces in place, how can McKeown keep the team on the road it has paved in the past 15 years? Well, the same way he has done it for 15 seasons, with defense and intensity.

Maybe to some, the GW women’s basketball team isn’t headed for a strong season. But in my mind, that is a false assumption. For a team that has been cast away, practice brings the Colonials one thing they needed: the chance to prove that they can be a top 40 team.

Although the men’s team is receiving a lot of attention, the women could, once again, be one of the best teams on campus.

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