In March of 2012, Aaliyah Brown, Alexis Chandler and DaLacy Anderson had already committed to GW, which had just finished a 11‒18 season. Jonathan Tsipis was helping guide current WNBA superstar Skylar Diggins and the Notre Dame Fighting Irish through a national championship appearance as an associate head coach when the news was leaked that he would take over for Mike Bozeman as head coach of the Colonials the next season.
Tsipis then traveled to each of Brown’s, Chandler’s and Anderson’s homes to talk to them about their expectations and goals at GW. If their visions weren’t aligned, Tsipis was ready to tell them that the program was no longer the best fit, but all of them seemed to be on the same page.
Since then, Tsipis, Brown, Chandler and Anderson have rebuilt the program. Each year since Tsipis started recruiting current freshmen Kelsi Mahoney and Mei-Lyn Bautista early in their high school careers, he’s had a new season of growth and improvement on which to sell them. Mahoney and Bautista signed on to the program last November as it was garnering national attention.
Since such immense success arrived so quickly for the Colonials, it is easy to forget that the program was not always this successful. But Brown, Chandler and Anderson remember, and they make sure the younger players know how much things have changed.
“When I first came here, we were second to last in the league,” Chandler said. “It’s grown quite tremendously since then being in the top four for consecutive years – and there are good rivalries. And it’s always nice to see how far you’ve come from freshman year being last and second to last and always looked over.”
Tsipis said that having gone through a losing season and having bought into the coaching change gave the seniors a greater appreciation for where they are now.
Brown, Chandler and Anderson have never started a game all together. But the entire team relies on them, especially to usher the freshmen into the program’s culture.
“I think they take a lot of pride,” Tsipis said. “Each of them talks to the two freshmen a lot about what the expectations are and I think they know how important they’ve been to making sure this program is on the right track.”
Mahoney said that the team’s veterans have taught her how to handle being part of a program that is under the national spotlight.
“They told me first of all to enjoy it and relish in it,” Mahoney said. “But the most important thing is staying close-knit as a team. We want to be the best we can be and strive to be the best in the nation. But, more importantly, we just want to get better every single day.”
Mahoney also said that the veterans have helped her understand the importance of focusing on the next play up and staying in the moment instead of getting distracted by the bigger picture.
The team is full of experienced leaders. Along with Brown, Chandler and Anderson, graduate student guard Lauren Chase and senior forward Jonquel Jones transferred in during the middle of Tsipis’ first year.
But along with helping the freshmen deal with stress or pressure, the team’s elder statesmen just have a lot of fun. Even without starting a game, they’ve cherished their time on the team.
“I feel like I am going to know these girls way past graduation, which is one of the better things about this team,” Brown said. “We take the opportunity to live in the moment everywhere we go.”
“Bus rides, airports, coach’s house – we make it fun no matter where we are,” she added.
Looking back, they all had advice they wished they could have heard as freshmen. Anderson said she wishes she had branched out more into other student networks, like multicultural groups, and Brown said that she wishes that she “caught on a little faster,” to what the program’s goals were.
“But that is part of growing,” Brown said. “You don’t really know everything. Overall, it’s one of those things of ‘what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.’ So it’s just about taking it in strides and learning from your mistakes.”
All of the seniors said they have unfinished business to attend to this year. But for Brown, Anderson and Chandler, especially, they have three years of lessons learned through growth and change to draw from after they took a chance on an unproven program.