While the rest of GW was away for the summer, women’s basketball was using the extra campus space acclimating as a team and finding time to get to know one another.
Players said the team spent the summer bonding over movies, planning outings around D.C. and sharpening its individual and team skills in practice. As a relatively new squad – welcoming more than half of its players on the court for the first time – players said the free time was crucial for them to spark connections with one another.
“We have a lot of new pieces coming in, so it’s really important for us to get that chemistry down and learn each other’s tendencies so we can come together when it’s time,” graduate student guard Ariel Stephenson said.
Stephenson and fellow graduate student forward Alexandra Maund and freshmen guard Essence Brown and forward Faith Blethen joined the squad this season. Redshirt freshman Tori Hyduke and redshirt freshman forward Mayowa Taiwo will see their first minutes on the court after spending time on the bench last year with preseason injuries.
Redshirt junior guard Sydney Zambrotta also will hit the court for the first time as a Colonial this season after sitting out the 2018-19 season per NCAA transfer rules.
Stephenson, who transferred from Wake Forest, said she prioritized spending time with teammates and coaches to ensure they built up a strong relationship heading into the season. The team spent time watching movies and sporting events like the WNBA finals.
“Just trying to build my reputation on the court so my teammates and coaches can learn to trust me on the court,” Stephenson said. “Communication and trust are mutual when it comes to basketball.”
Brown said the team also went out to eat, participated in a D.C.-wide scavenger hunt created by the program and walked to the monuments together. She added that she and Blethen leaned on each other to adjust to college life because the experience was new for them as freshmen, which made them closer friends and teammates.
“We’ve helped each other for sure,” Brown said. “If there’s something that I have a weakness at, she’s there to help me and same for me for her. We push each other and we’re competitive with each other to make each other better.”
In addition to team bonding, players said the summer training focused on developing individual skills, like shooting and defensive footwork, learning the offense and defense systems and conditioning.
Brown said she worked in small groups within the team, but players broke off for one-on-one time with coaching staff to improve shooting capabilities off a screen. She added that assistant coach Ganiyat Adeduntan helped her firm up her shot.
“We did a lot of group stuff, but we also did small group things where it would just be two or three of us,” Brown said.
Stephenson said the team combined conditioning with offensive practice. She added that if the team did not finish what it wanted to accomplish in practice, the entire squad would hit the gym afterward and work until they hit their goals for the day.
“We just put everything into one,” Stephenson said. “We learned mostly offenses over the summer and then we morphed conditioning into that too. We got a little bit of both.”
Despite the attention to offense, Zambrotta said the Colonials also made sure to sharpen up their notorious hard-press defense through a specific block of practices called “Camp D Up,” where they practiced all things defense over a three-day stretch.
She added that the team worked on taking charges, moving their feet, defensive slides and scrimmaging against one another.
“We had ‘Camp D Up’ in the beginning of the year, basically like three days of straight defense,” Zambrotta said. “It was really fun.”
Head coach Jennifer Rizzotti said because a portion of the team has played one or two seasons of college basketball, any blips down the road it could run into will clear up once the team gets into the swing of the season.
“We have a lot of maturity in our team and a lot of guys that are willing to take ownership,” she said. “When you have guys that are invested in the team success, then some of those wrinkles will end up ironing themselves out as the games start.”