Although the women’s basketball season came to an end earlier than he had anticipated, head coach Jonathan Tsipis said he’s proud.
The Colonials’ postseason dreams were cut short after their 56–51 loss to No. 9-seeded Kansas State in the first round of the NCAA Tournament Friday. Advancing to the Big Dance was no small feat, though, as GW embarked on a roller coaster of a season with many twists and turns.
From their star shooter’s shoulder injury to losing their national ranking, the Colonials (26‒7, 13‒3 A-10) overcame adversity and took home the Atlantic 10 Championship trophy in March.
“It’s a different team. It’s a different dynamic,” Tsipis said. “Honestly, it’s a night-and-day difference with how we played [against Kansas State] compared to how we played last year in Oregon.”
Against No. 11-seeded Gonzaga in last year’s first round, GW’s banner season, which the Colonials finished 29‒4, ended with an 82–69 defeat in Corvallis, Ore. The Colonials struggled with a low-shooting percentage, got into foul trouble early and failed to bounce back from a 40–25 halftime deficit.
On the court with the Wildcats Friday, the Colonials played a tightly contested match with a chip on their shoulders. They captured the momentum early, but were plagued by 21 turnovers which ultimately led to their downfall.
Despite the early exit, Tsipis said the team has shown growth and improvement from last season, even with its constant battle with ball control and shot selection troubles.
“I think it was a very different season than last year,” Tsipis said. “We were expected to do great things this year and we were expected to win the A-10. I think it just was a different level.”
There were plenty of examples of elevated play this year: like in GW’s double-overtime win against No. 21/25 Iowa on the road, or when the frontcourt, guided by junior Caira Washington and sophomore Kelli Prange, stepped up for three-straight victories after senior Jonquel Jones’ injury.
Jones fell to the floor during the Massachusetts game on Jan. 20, suffered a shoulder injury and remained inactive until postseason play. Junior guard Hannah Schaible was out earlier in the season and sophomore guard Brianna Cummings also missed a few. Dealing with obstacles, the veterans brought consistency and control to dominate in down-to-the-wire matches.
For example, Schaible knocked down two game-winning free throws to outlast Richmond on Feb. 24 with 3.6 seconds left of the clock and graduate student guard Lauren Chase dominated along the perimeter by adding eight points and nine assists in GW’s 67–50 victory over Massachusetts on Jan. 22.
“There was great growth on the team, when you look at the whole body of work, to be able to get two more championships and add three more banners in the Smith Center, I just wish the senior group could have had the taste of advancing in the NCAA Tournament,” Tsipis said.
But the future remains bright for the conference champions. Cummings and freshman guard Mei-Lyn Bautista also made impressive debuts this season. Cummings got a shot in the starting five with her defensive aggression underneath, and Bautista shined with her 3-point baskets, providing a spark off the bench.
Even with talented underclassmen in the mix, Tsipis’ star-studded roster will be without four seniors, and a graduate student, for the 2016-2017 season in Chase, Jones, DaLacy Anderson, Aaliyah Brown and Alexis Chandler.
Graduation may be bittersweet, but the seniors will leave a historic legacy as they contributed to the team’s exponential growth over the past four years.
Taking the team from a 14–16 record freshman year to back-to-back conference championships and NCAA appearances wasn’t easy, but Jones said she wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I love playing with my teammates,” Jones said. “We’ve been able to do a lot of things that haven’t been done at GW for a long time.”