Trying to match a 22-8 record, an Atlantic 10 West Title and an NCAA Tournament berth will be no easy task for the GW women’s basketball team. Especially after losing four seniors.
Stars Cathy Joens and Ugo Oha are gone – and so are role players Marshiek Witherspoon and Valerie Williams. What’s left is a young squad that could still make some noise in the A-10. The Colonials’ roster includes five freshmen and five sophomores.
“Obviously we lost a huge senior class and a lot of talent but so did the rest of the A-10,” junior Liz Dancause said. “A lot of the A-10 all-conference team has graduated so I think you will see a lot of new faces not only on this team but throughout the league.”
Even with graduation ransacking the starting lineup, the Colonials still have forward Anna Monta?ana, one the most well-rounded players in the conference. She is also the oldest and most experienced player on a squad with five freshmen.
“The younger players are bringing a lot of intensity,” Monta?ana said. “We are going to learn a lot throughout the season because we are a young team.”
One of the new veteran additions to the Colonials will be junior center Jessica Simmonds, who transferred from Providence College and sat out all of last year due to NCAA regulations.
“I am really excited to play this year,” she said. “It’s been rough sitting out when I know I could help the team. But I think we are going to be good this year.”
Simmonds will be an important frontcourt player for GW. She has big shoes to fill as the replacement for Oha, who was a force for the Colonials down low over the past four years.
“I want to win,” Simmonds said. “I want to go to the tournament. I have never been to the tournament and I am really trying to get there. I’ll do anything I possibly can to get there.”
Head Coach Joe McKeown said both Simmonds and Monta?ana could be dominant enough to overcome a youthful roster.
“Anytime you can walk on to the floor with Anna Monta?ana you have got a shot to win no matter who you are playing,” McKeown said. “I think Jessica Simmonds is going to be one of the elite players in the league and I think we have some other weapons too.”
Dancause will also be an important player for the Colonials. She started 36 games for McKeown last season, averaging three assists and three points per game.
“I think we are going to be just as competitive as last year,” Dancause said. “Everyone expects us to be young, but we have great team chemistry.”
Michaela Leary, a graduate student, began the year on the roster but recently decided not to play this season.
“It was her personal decision,” McKeown said. “She was a great person to have in the program the last three years and she is moving on with her life. There are no negatives for either side.”
The Colonials will replace Leary with freshman walk-on Audie Fugett, who played high school basketball at the Roland Park Country School in Baltimore.
In addition to Fugett, GW has plenty of young talent to complement its veterans. The sophomore class, including Amanda LoCascio and Corrine Turner, should see a good amount of time this season. Fellow second-year players Kristina Gineitis and Kenan Cole will be key contributors off the bench.
The fifth sophomore is Whitney Allen, who is petitioning the NCAA to get back a year of eligibility after an early season wrist injury sidelined her for all of her freshman campaign. Allen, who has yet to see a minute of playing time for GW, is a shooting guard/small forward who can create off the dribble.
A solid group of freshmen will also look to contribute. An early season setback for Lisa Steele (stress fracture in left foot) leaves the Colonials without their most highly touted recruit for at least a few more weeks. Steele is a sharpshooter who averaged more than 25 points per game in high school and was named to Street and Smith’s Honorable Mention All-America team three times in her high school career. Steele is the prospective replacement for Joens – a long-distance shooter who can spread opposing defenses.
The other three rookies, Kimberly Beck, Sarah-Jo Lawrence and Lora Mitchell could all see playing time this winter.
“Intensity has been great. The freshmen have come in and tried to do everything we ask of them,” McKeown said. “Everyone is playing hard and sometimes the execution gets a little sloppy because of that, but I have been impressed with everyone’s attitude.”
The Colonials’ early schedule will give the young players an early taste of big-time college basketball. GW will open at Georgetown Nov. 19, then play at home against East Carolina University Nov. 21, and then travel to face powerhouse University of Tennessee on Nov. 23. In first month of the season, GW will travel to play the University of Oregon, Brigham Young University and Boston College – all tough road games.
“I am not worried,” McKeown said. “We scheduled this year just like we had any of those seniors from the past. Our non-conference schedule allows us if we play well to be an at-large team in the tournament.”
If the Colonials can defend their A-10 West title, they will play with a home court advantage in the conference tournament, which will be held at the Smith Center March 4-7, 2005.
“Our goal is to finish first,” McKeown said. “I think Temple, St. Joe’s, Richmond and Xavier are all quality programs, but they finished behind us last season so their goal is to catch GW. My job is to stay in front of them.”