Women’s basketball head coach Jennifer Rizzotti let out a chuckle when she began to talk about the team’s three seniors, Caira Washington, Hannah Schaible and Shannon Cranshaw. The first-year coach lauded the three for their reputation as stand-up people but said they sometimes need to depart from their “gentleness” and take charge.
“I think all three of them struggle with the same thing,” Rizzotti said. “I think that they’re nice kids that don’t want to make anyone mad at them.”
The three seniors will look to be strong vocal leaders to help the Colonials come back from two consecutive first-round losses in the NCAA Tournament last season. And Rizzotti said they need grit to make a full comeback.
“They have to learn that when you’re a winner, and you’re a leader, you don’t always have to make everyone happy,” Rizzotti said. “Sometimes it’s going to take you being harsh and vocal to hold your teammates accountable.”
For a team that returns many of the same players but without former program icons Lauren Chase and Jonquel Jones, leadership is essential. Chase ran the offense last year from the point, while Jones was the take-charge figure in the locker room that other players rallied around.
This year, Washington, Schaible and Cranshaw will be the established and most experienced members of a 2016–2017 who return with playing experience.
The Colonials will count on Washington and Schaible to set the tone. The two players will propel GW’s success on the floor this year, having been named to the preseason all-conference first and third teams, respectively.
Washington lurks as a premier force in the paint with Jones gone, as one of four players in program history with 1,000 points (1,219), 800 rebounds (856) and 100 blocked shots (102).
As the new face of the program, Washington said she hopes to be more vocal on the floor in her final season.
“[Basketball] is more than just being able to make a shot,” Washington said. “It’s also being able to talk to my teammates when we’re down – if we’re down five or whatever – and being able to step back up and get back in the game.”
And Schaible’s tenacity is evident in her ability to scrap and rebound with the bigs. With 542 career boards – including 6 rebounds per game last season – Schaible ranks an impressive 22nd all-time in program history.
She said she hopes to lead the team by example, as much as by her words. The senior wing player has become a staple of hustle – never hesitating to put her body on the line for loose balls.
With a self-proclaimed “eclectic” personality, Schaible said she hopes some of her goofiness can bring levity to the team when they face challenges. And her passion on the floor should give other players energy, she said.
“Being a senior and a captain, I think the underclassmen look to me for leadership,” Cranshaw said. “So that’s probably my biggest role right now, to keep everyone calm when we have adverse situations.”
Although Washington and Schaible may be making headlines in the preseason, Cranshaw has been a driving force in the locker room. The Colonials were picked to finish fourth in the A-10 this season after back-to-back conference championships, something that did not go unnoticed by the senior guard.
“I actually wrote the [A-10 preseason] rankings up on the board,” Cranshaw said. “Not that we need any more motivation to work hard but it kind of is fuel for us. The last two years that we won the A-10 we weren’t picked to do so in the preseason, so this year is no different.”
Cranshaw had a season of peaks and valleys last year, beginning the season as the starting two guard before being relegated to a bench role with the emergence of sophomore guard Brianna Cummings and former head coach Jonathan Tsipis’ preference for playing big.
Cranshaw said she has been encouraged by Rizzotti’s motion offense, which will have many moving parts and give players equal opportunities to score. Rather than being buried in the corner in Tsipis’ pick-and-roll style, Cranshaw should have more opportunities for open shots and drives to the rim.
“For me it’s never been about ‘Are you starting?’ or ‘Are you coming off the bench?’” Cranshaw said. “It’s just playing my role and embracing my role, knowing that whatever I do is important for our team’s success, whether I’m scoring or assisting or taking charges.”