It’s the afternoon of Tuesday, Nov. 1 and the GW women’s basketball team is in the middle of an intrasquad scrimmage. Three weeks after Colonials Invasion, the official beginning of basketball season, the squad is practicing in anticipation of what lies in the upcoming winter months.
This early in the season, practice has been a crash course in women’s basketball, Joe McKeown style. McKeown’s coaching style is well-documented and been successful in his 16 seasons at GW. He has led the Colonials to four Atlantic 10 championships and is the winningest coach in conference history.
Sophomore Kim Beck, a preseason all-conference first-team selection, said McKeown has been drilling the squad on plays to make the newcomers accustomed to the program.
“Since we do have a big group, we’ve been working on a lot of plays,” Beck said. “Since we have such a big freshman class, we’re just making sure everyone is on the same page.”
The page the Colonials left off last season should have been bookmarked. GW made it to the second round of the NCAA tournament, their 12th appearance since joining the A-10 in 1991. The team defeated Ole’ Miss before losing to North Carolina in Chapel Hill, N.C.
This season, the young squad will face the task of a front-loaded schedule rife with national powers such as Virginia (Nov. 18), Purdue (Nov. 25), Villanova (Dec. 1) and Tennessee (Dec. 7). After playing Purdue in the Junkanoo Jam in the Bahamas, the Colonials will face either South Carolina or Texas.
“Our first five games are going to be an interesting experience,” said forward Jessica Simmonds, the team’s only senior. “But if we just come out here strong and not look at the names that are on (our opponents’) shirts and just come out here and compete, then we should be fine.”
“It’s great to get Tennessee in here, we’ve got to start beating them,” McKeown said. “This will be their third trip up here, and it’s a great atmosphere . (having a tough schedule) really helps you in the eyes of a recruit, because you want to play against the best.”
The best is something McKeown has been able to attract to a program that was in the Elite Eight in 1997.
Simmonds, a two-year captain, was named to the preseason all-conference first team after finishing seventh in the conference in scoring, eighth in rebounding and third in blocks last year.
“Right now she’s in great shape, her attitude is terrific . I think she’s primed to have a big year,” McKeown said.
Helping her will be Beck, the reigning A-10 rookie of the year, junior Kenan Cole, sophomore Sarah-Jo Lawrence and junior Whitney Allen. The Colonials also welcome the return of red-shirt freshman Lisa Steele, a strong shooter who sat out last season with an injury. Rounding out the lineup are sophomore Lora Mitchell and junior Corinne Turner.
The Colonials begin conference play in early January, starting at home against Dayton and wrapping up against A-10 newcomer Charlotte on Feb. 26.
“(Charlotte is) really talented . I’m curious to see how they’ll play into the league,” McKeown said.
The women will also play Temple, which knocked off GW in the A-10 championship game last year, Richmond and Xavier twice. Temple and Richmond both qualified for the NCAA tournament. Xavier was left out and lost in the quarterfinals of the WNIT to the University of Kentucky.
“You’re talking about six games that are the key games in the league,” McKeown said, referring to the three conference mainstays.
McKeown’s coaching staff has not changed much in the past few years, although there will be one new face on the bench. In addition to Lisa Cermignano and Tajama Ngongba, Mike Bozeman will be sitting next to McKeown.
The team also has five other newcomers on the court. Freshmen Jessica and Jazmine Adair, Faith Peters, Chantelle John and Jamila Bates make up the Colonials’ recruiting class. Jessica and Jazmine, twins from D.C., are 6-foot-4 and 6-foot-3, respectively, with John measuring in at 6-foot-2, followed by the 6-foot-1 Bates and 5-foot-10 Peters.
“We have these (big) freshmen who are really talented,” McKeown said. “I know to win at a very high level you have to have a combination of size, quickness and speed, so we’re trying to blend and it’s not easy.”
The five freshmen will need to fill the gaps left by graduating seniors Anna Monta?ana, an all-American candidate and Liz Dancause. The team also lost Kristina Gineitis and Amanda LoCascio to transfers.
“I think just everyone should go out there and work hard,” Beck said. “The rest will take care of itself.”