When a new head coach joins a team, growing pains and team-wide adjustments are to be expected.
Last spring, GW not only welcomed a new head coach but also said goodbye to two of its best players. In a year of transition, the Colonials weren’t expected to finish higher than fourth place in the Atlantic 10.
On Wednesday night, they proved everyone wrong.
Under the leadership of first-year head coach Jennifer Rizzotti, women’s basketball (20-8, 13-3 A-10) clinched its third straight regular-season A-10 title with a 63—44 win at Richmond – its seventh in a row.
“We’re just so thrilled and blessed to have this opportunity to show what we’re made of, and what we’re capable of,” junior forward Kelli Prange said. “In the beginning of the season they had us ranked fourth coming into preseason and a couple of us were shaking our head like, ‘They don’t know what’s coming.’ Obviously we proved them wrong.”
Rizzotti, who is no stranger to winning, led the Colonials to a dominant 19-point victory against the Spiders at the Robins Center in the team’s regular-season finale.
“We just wanted to make sure we wrapped things up the right way,” Rizzotti said. “We knew we were in control of our own destiny to get a share of the championship and the girls took care of business so I’m really proud of them.”
The Colonials were in control of the game from the tip, going on a 7-0 offensive run to prompt an early timeout by Richmond’s head coach.
The Spiders answered back with their own 6-0 offensive run, and at one point led the game by one point for a few seconds in the first quarter, but the Colonials’ bench helped spark a 25-2 offensive run that started toward the end of the first quarter and continued into the second.
Rizzotti opened the second quarter with her signature full-court defensive trap, shutting down the Spiders’ offense and allowing the Colonials to continue their hot offensive play.
The Spiders shot just 15 percent from the field in the second quarter. They had started the night shooting 45 percent from the field, and headed into the halftime break trailing 32-17.
The Colonials shot 42.9 percent from the field in both quarters and kept their offense consistent. Richmond’s leading scorer, Janelle Hubbard, was also kept in check, being scoreless in the first half.
Senior forward Caira Washington and graduate student forward Lexi Martins shut down the paint early in the game on the defensive end, allowing Richmond only six points in the paint in the first half, and combining for 10 points and 10 rebounds between the duo.
Martins ended the night with a double-double (12p, 10r) while Washington contributed seven points and grabbed four boards on the night.
The Spiders heated up a bit in the third quarter, with Hubbard breaking her scoring drought and collecting seven points in the period, but the Spiders were unable to keep up with the Colonials’ fast ball movement and aggressive drives to the paint, and were trailing 45-28 heading into the final frame.
The fourth quarter opened with back-to-back threes from Martins and senior guard Shannon Cranshaw and continued hot play from the Colonials. Prange picked up 11 points in the game and went 2-for-3 from beyond the arc.
Prange has now been on a championship-wining team her entire career at GW.
“Oh my god, it is so amazing,” Prange said. “We had such a legacy when J.J. [Jonquel Jones] and Bird [Lauren Chase] left last year, and they left it in good hands with Caira, Hannah, Shannon, and Lexi coming in.”
The Colonials ended the night shooting 44 percent from the field and 40 percent from beyond the arc, while holding the Spiders to 30 percent from the field.
Senior guard Hannah Schaible contributed eight points and five rebounds, while freshman forward Kendall Bresee grabbed seven boards to go along with her six points.
The team will now enjoy a week off from play, as tonight’s victory earned them a first-week bye in the Atlantic-10 tournament. The regular season may be over for the Colonials, but the team is still hungry for another tournament title.
“It feels great, but we’re never satisfied,” Washington said of the win. “From here we want to try to get better.”