Women’s basketball prioritizes developing newcomers

Media Credit: Sydney Walsh | Assistant Photo Editor

The development of the new freshmen players will be a critical focus for the future of Head Coach Caroline McCombs.

Women’s basketball will begin the Caroline McCombs era with an almost entirely new roster.

The vast majority of the Colonials’ roster is entering their first year at GW, including four freshmen and two junior college players who will be seeing their first Division I action. Retooling the majority of the collegiate roster can be a rocky process, but the Colonials are quickly building chemistry to create a strong foundation of development for after the veterans leave GW.

Junior forward Faith Blethen said the 10 new players have brought a “different energy to the team” that is reflected both on and off the court.

“We have just such a great time and I think it also leads to on the court. We just have a heightened sense of competition,” she said.

McCombs comes to GW after a successful career at the helm of Stony Brook and she has set out to build a cohesive team culture that can serve as a foundation for the Colonial program moving forward after posting losing seasons for the past three years.

“Number one, we just want to love each other. We want to take care of each other,” McCombs said. “I think that is a priority for us, so we understand that your value comes from who you are, not what you do. We want to serve other people as well in everything that we’re doing.”

One of the most exciting prospects on paper for McComb’s first incoming class is forward Michelle Ojo out of Virginia Beach. Ojo was an all-state first team player as a senior and was classified as a three-star recruit and the 14th-best wing player in the country.

Freshman guard Maxine Engel arrives in Foggy Bottom after a decorated career at Hutchison High School in Memphis. Engel was a two-time all-state player and averaged 15.0 points, 7.0 rebounds and 5.0 assists as a senior. Graduate student guard Kyara Frames said Engel is someone who “definitely stands out,” even though she arrived after the summer workouts.

“Someone I think definitely stands out is Maxine,” graduate student guard Kyara Frames said. “She’s just a hustle player. She plays within her game and when she gets the ball, she’s very smart with it, and she’s made us a lot better.”

Fellow freshman guard Leila Patel will look to bring some firepower to the Colonials’ backcourt in her first collegiate season. Patel reached the 1,000-point milestone by her sophomore year at Centennial High School in Frisco, Texas and scored 20.5 points per game as a senior.

Freshman forward Sophie Haydon is already the tallest player on the 16-person roster at 6 feet, 3 inches. Haydon played five years of varsity basketball at Minnetonka High School, averaging 9.3 points and 7.2 rebounds per game for her career.

Senior guard Maddie Loder said it has been “exciting” to watch Haydon grow as a player, especially as a fellow Minnesotan.

“Man, that kid from when she got here to right now is so much better,” Loder said. “It’s really awesome, it’s also a testament to our coaching staff that they are all about development.”

Haydon is the only freshman to see playing time so far this season as McCombs has opted to lean on more experienced players. She has scored a total of 4 points thus far, notching her second layup of the season after junior guard Essence Brown found her inside the paint in GW’s loss to Minnesota. Haydon’s layup was the only field goal of the fourth quarter as the Colonials finished 1-of-9 from the floor in a defensive slog.

McCombs said she values having players who “understand GW and that understand the Atlantic 10 conference,” as she establishes herself in the program and a new conference since arriving from the smaller America East Conference.

That experience will largely come from Loder this year. Loder is the only four-year veteran of the program on the roster, as she is the only senior and the three graduate students all transferred in from other schools.

“I played college basketball for so long, I can help our freshmen understand it a little bit easier,” Loder said. “It only takes me one or two reps to figure out what we’re doing versus when I was a freshman. I was standing on the sidelines watching four or five plays going in, running in and having to do it a bunch of times because I didn’t understand.”

Loder appeared in 75 games over her first three seasons, including 14 starts as a freshman, and has taken on a leadership role particularly since her junior campaign. She has started both games so far this year to provide some consistency and experience to the new-look roster.

The freshmen have not seen a great deal of game time, but they have still found a way to impact the team and move everyone forward in practice.

“I think honestly, without our freshmen we wouldn’t be as good as we are,” Frames said. “They push us every day in practice. We break off into teams to compete against each other, they’re making us a lot better.”

GW is predicted to finish 12th out of 14 teams in the A-10 and the focus of the year will be on the development of a competitive and healthy atmosphere and the improvement of the young student-athletes, which will be critical for the future of McCombs and the Colonials.

“Throughout this nonconference schedule, which we know that we do have a great nonconference schedule ahead of us, we’re going to learn what all those things look like, and we’ll coach them and we’ll figure that out along the way,” McCombs said.

The Colonials will look to earn another win after Thursday’s narrow victory when they return home to host Quinnipiac Monday. Tipoff is slated for 5 p.m.

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