Over the last two years, women’s basketball has finished the regular season with the best record in the Atlantic 10 twice, picked up one conference title and competed in both the NCAA tournament and the WNIT.
After both seasons, the Colonials graduated multiple big-time contributors who led the program throughout their respective seasons, leaving gaping holes to be filled by the next line of players.
This year, seniors forward Kelli Prange and guards Brianna Cummings and Camila Tapias said they are looking to make a similar impact as their teammates and coach rely on them to score, defend and lead more than ever before.
“After last season I sat in the coach’s office and I was like ‘we need to get back to the A-10 tournament championship and make the NCAA,’” Cummings said. “There are three of us seniors left, and it is our turn to set the example. We have definitely all stepped it up in practice and on the court.”
Each of the three seniors played a role for the teams the past two years, but they were almost never the first option in the action.
Cummings had a breakout year as a sophomore, averaging 8.8 points and 4.8 rebounds per game. She averaged another 6.5 points and 4.5 rebounds last year and started two-thirds of the Colonials games, but the focus on the court was often in the paint where Washington and Martins led the way.
The A-10 named Cummings to the conference’s Preseason All-Defensive Team. Cummings’ tireless effort and hustle on the defensive end inspires the younger players, Prange said.
“I know for each upperclassmen it’s different. Bri Cummings is more so a leader by example with her hard work on the court,” she said.
Prange had a similar impact, averaging 8.0 points and 3.6 rebounds per contest last season while stretching the floor more than most players, at 6-foot-5. Although there were two different games where Prange led the team in scoring, the crowded frontcourt allowed her to remain out of the spotlight as a role player.
On-court rapport is critical to team success, but Prange said she also prides herself in leadership off the floor.
“I think that once you get to know someone off the court, it’s that much easier for them to understand, ‘Oh well she is super nice and very supportive off the court,’ so if I’m yelling at them on the court they know it’s not coming from a bad place,” Prange said.
Head coach Jennifer Rizzotti said she expects both Cummings and Prange to be central members of the lineup and statistical leaders once the season gets underway.
“[Last year’s seniors] were so competitive and so accomplished; they were such a big part of the success of the program. Bri and Kelli in particular kind of took a backseat to that,” Rizzotti said. “Now they’re at the forefront and they are certainly taking advantage of that opportunity.”
Although Tapias has spent most of her time playing with the reserves, Rizzotti said she also has been important in the team’s preseason preparation.
Tapias hasn’t always been at the center of action for the Colonials, but as a veteran guard last year she played a career-high 24 games, often as the backup point guard behind junior Mei-Lyn Bautista. This year, she is looking to play off the ball more often and utilize her shooting ability on the wing, she said.
Rizzotti said the Colonials will look to use their athleticism and shooting ability to their advantage, hoping to get out in transition and force opposing bigs to get back on defense. This may lead to more three- and four-guard sets, which Tapias is relishing.
“I can shoot the ball, and she wants me to focus on being a shooter and playing next to Mei,” Tapias said. “So I think I’m going to be more of a two.”
All of the seniors said they want to make it back to the NCAA tournament this season after winning the A-10 championship for their third time in four years.
“I came here as a freshman and we started this winning tradition,” Tapias said. “And we definitely want to add to that tradition of GW to improve the program.”