Head coach Jennifer Rizzotti occupied the point guard position during her famed collegiate and professional careers, but her own squad lacks depth in the position.
Freshman guard Tori Hyduke and redshirt sophomore guard Sydney Zambrotta were slated as the next in line to run the floor behind senior guard Mei-Lyn Bautista, but an ACL injury has rendered Hyduke unable to play and Zambrotta – a transfer from Louisville – is forced to sit out this season due to NCAA transfer rules.
With Hyduke and Zambrotta out of the realm of possibilities, the responsibility of running the floor behind Bautista will instead fall on sophomore guard Lexus Levy and freshman guard Maddie Loder, Rizzotti said.
“Neither one of them are true point guards, but both of them have experience playing point, and I’ve challenged them to step up their game,” Rizzotti said.
As a returning starter with a commanding presence on the floor, Bautista has drawn comparisons to Rizzotti, who played point guard for UConn’s undefeated 1995 championship team. Rizzotti said she’s confident with Bautista taking the reins running the floor, but she admitted it is “scary” to think about the lack of depth at the position.
“It’ll test my patience when Mei is not out there on the floor,” Rizzotti said. “But I do feel good.”
Last season, the Colonials relied on then-senior guard Camila Tapias to run the floor, but as the season progressed, Tapias fell into an off-ball guard role while fellow fourth-year guard Brianna Cummings and Bautista split time running the point.
In the shooting guard position, Tapias shot 29.8 percent from beyond the arc – good for fifth on the team – while averaging 23.0 minutes on the court and starting all but two of GW’s 33 games.
Cummings was the team’s leading scorer, averaging 14.3 points, 5.7 rebounds and 34.3 minutes per game. She was the only Colonial to start every game for GW and shot 43.7 percent from the field. Even though she was not a traditional point guard, by the end of the year the team relied on her to handle the ball and run the offense in several scenarios – often when the game was on the line.
Now, GW’s lack of depth and experience in the backcourt leaves a hole and begs the question of who will be handling the ball when Bautista must inevitably take a break.
Rizzotti decided to call on Levy and Loder as relief players because she has high expectations for both of them and thinks they can run the floor better than most of the team when needed, she said.
“They should be able to play, assume ball handling responsibilities when necessary, helping each other out, help us stay organized, set the tempo and the intensity on the defensive side of the floor, and to be leaders vocally,” Rizzotti said.
Bautista, who ranked 14th nationally with a 2.82 assist-to-turnover ratio last season, saw the court for an average of 32.9 minutes per game and was the only Colonial to be named to a Preseason All-Conference team prior to this season.
Despite her obvious prowess in the position, the Queens, N.Y. native said she needs more of an “even split” in time on the backcourt so she can stay fresh and reduce wear-and-tear on her body after playing nearly every minute of every game last season in the starting point guard position.
Bautista said she has been “heavily relying” on Levy to fill in the backup point guard role behind her.
“She’s stepping up a lot in practice and I have 100 percent confidence in her,” Bautista said. “But it’s going to be a lot of us just splitting it because whether she’s in or we’re in together, it’s not going to be easy.”
Levy, a 5-foot-6-inch guard, appeared in all 33 games last season averaging 16.5 minutes per game. A three-point specialist, Levy converted 27 three-pointers last year, the fourth-highest mark on the team. On the defensive end, she logged three steals in two separate games last season.
The other option to fill the point guard position is Loder, a 5-foot-11-inch freshman who adds height to the position’s typical profile. Loder said considering Rizzotti’s experience in the position has expedited her development as a player because she wants to live up to the head coach’s expectations.
“Playing under her as a point guard, there’s some huge expectations,” Loder said.
Loder, who said she has played in the point guard position since fifth grade, was initially told to expect to be playing in an off-ball role at GW but has now adopted a mindset to be ready for everything.
“I have great other point guards, Mei and Lexus, and even Syd who played at Louisville,” Loder said. “She’s unbelievable at just telling me what she sees so I can work on that. It’ll be hard, but I think I’m ready for it.”
Bautista, who has run the floor for GW since her freshman year, acknowledged the learning curve that comes with the position for the young guards coming up behind her, but said she expects her teammates to be able to step up.
“It isn’t easy coming off the bench and running a team, because it’s not just any position, it’s the point guard position,” Bautista said. “When we have a backcourt, both of us should be able to run the team.”