For a fairly new women’s basketball squad, it’s going to take some time before finding a core starting five.
More than half of the team – seven of 13 players – did not see play last season, with some returning players bouncing back from injury and others arriving to GW for their first season with the Colonials. Head coach Jennifer Rizzotti said she will experiment with her starting five early in the season to strike the right balance of talent and experience.
Last season fell short of the lofty expectations pinned on the Colonials. The team won just 10 games last season, finishing with a .333 win percentage. In conference play, the squad nabbed a 7–9 record, struggling in conference play for the first time since the 2011-12 season when it won just four conference games.
Rizzotti said the squad has put the disappointing season in its rearview mirror and turned its attention to the season ahead.
She added that the squad’s longer bench is an added bonus from previous seasons, but becoming a cohesive unit can prove challenging for the squad. The team will need a few more games under its belt to find its footing, she said.
“You will see a very different look on the court,” Rizzotti said. “We’re a very deep team, very talented team. And we’ve been working really, really hard to find that cohesiveness that you need to have with a lot of new pieces.”
Rizzotti said that while players don’t have “roles defined,” she feels no pressure to hammer out a starting lineup so early in the season.
Of last season’s regular starting five, only two players – junior forward Neila Luma and sophomore guard Maddie Loder – remain on the roster. Luma is the Colonials’ leading scorer and rebounder, and Rizzotti has pegged her as a leader for the team this season.
The team will be without three 2019 graduates, guards Anna Savino and Mei-Lyn Bautista and forward Kelsi Mahoney, who soaked up minutes on the court and provided leadership to a young roster.
Redshirt junior Sydney Zambrotta, who sat out last year per NCAA transfer rules, said the squad’s starting five isn’t set in stone, but players are competing every day in practice to earn minutes on the court.
“It’s all up for grabs,” Zambrotta said. “I feel like we’ve all had different rotations throughout practice to see who works best with each other, but I feel overall like the spots are open and that we compete every day to make each other better.”
Two freshmen are set to embark on their first collegiate seasons, and two redshirt freshmen will see their first minutes on the floor. Forward Faith Blethen and guard Essence Brown provide scoring and the ability to play multiple positions for the Colonials.
Guard Tori Hyduke and forward Mayowa Taiwo, both redshirted last season after sustaining preseason injuries, are ready for competition this year. Hyduke, a natural point guard, is poised to earn game minutes in the role.
Standing at 6 feet, Taiwo is expected to swipe lots of boards for GW, a statistic the squad struggled to improve upon last season. Averaging 34.4 rebounds per game, the Colonials ranked 12th in the Atlantic 10.
Rizzotti also added two graduate transfers this season. Guard Ariel Stephenson and forward Alexandra Maund each have four years of previous collegiate experience and will provide basketball experience to a relatively untested team.
Zambrotta is another transfer making her debut after sitting out last year per NCAA requirements. Like Brown and Stephenson, Zambrotta gives Rizzotti more flexibility at point and allows her to experiment with different combinations.
At the exhibition game Oct. 27, Zambrotta split point guard responsibilities with Hyduke. She notched 13 points in 27 minutes of action.
In the exhibition game, sophomore center Kayla Mokwuah, Maund, Zambrotta, Hyduke and Blethen started. Luma was missing from the lineup, but Rizzotti said she will be expected to start in the team’s opening game at Villanova Tuesday. She said she wanted to see different combinations on the floor in the exhibition game.
Maund said the coaching staff placed a high premium on team bonding and protecting the team dynamic given the team’s several new faces.
“It’s been really good and it’s helped us leaps and bounds over the past three weeks, just seeing the growth in our bond and our trust in each other to make the right play or to make a decision,” Maund said.