With a disappointing season now in hindsight, women’s basketball Head Coach Caroline McCombs is ready to start over with a roster of fresh talent and a special focus on 3-point shooting entering the regular season.
McCombs added six players to the team during the offseason, targeting players with proven range to strengthen GW’s shooting in an effort to close the gap with Atlantic 10 competition after conference opponents outscored the team 1,711-1,435 last season. The Colonials started their A-10 schedule with an eight-game losing streak last winter, finishing with a 4–11 conference record that landed them in 12th place in the A-10.
“I think that we have changed our style a little bit and how we’re playing,” McCombs said in a post-practice interview last month. “And so I think for our fans and for our team, I think they’re enjoying the style on offense that we have implemented in this offseason. We’ve really focused on our finishes at the rim as well as our 3-point shooting and the kinds of shots we’re getting in our offense. And so I think those things will allow us to compete at a higher level.”
McCombs’ practices have consisted of range and repetition. She said she requires every player to shoot at least 250 3-pointers before leaving practice as part of a program designed by NBA star Stephen Curry called Accelerate Basketball Training to fine-tune the team’s accuracy from deep.
She said the team spent more time together and built closer relationships outside the Smith Center over the offseason beginning in June, which in turn has enhanced the team’s chemistry on the court. She said the coaching staff invested as much time as they could into each player on the roster in an effort to help each new player adjust to the high caliber of play and encourage returning players to exemplify the team’s values and priorities.
McCombs said she brought on recruits like graduate student guards Mia Lakstigala and Jayla Thornton to bolster the team’s 3-point shooting. Both players are 3-point specialists, with Thornton netting 275 3-pointers during her four years at Howard, while Lakstigala ranked fourth in 3-point percentage for UPenn last season at a .364 clip beyond the arc.
McCombs said freshman point guard Nya Robertson will put pressure on opposing teams with natural instincts and aggressive defense that can force opponents outside the paint.
“I think she’s going to be a dynamic guard in our program,” McCombs said. “She could play on and off the ball as well. So really looking forward to coaching her, she has a great basketball IQ as well and she sees the floor really well.”
She said freshman recruit Caia Loving will help the team grab more defensive rebounds with her towering 6’2’’ frame and stretch the floor with her 3-point shooting.
She said the coaching staff has relied on strength and conditioning during the offseason with four hours in the gym each week with Strength and Conditioning Coach Jonathan Lamb to stay healthy and improve the team’s stamina after often tiring out during the second half of games last season.
“We actually don’t have goals that I can talk about or that are controllable,” McCombs said. “We have principles that the team lives by that we talk about and so just getting one percent better every day is one of them. And I think we just want to be the best we can be in comparing ourselves to anybody else.”
McCombs said the team has rallied around her philosophy of “pounding the stone, ”encouraging them to fight through adversity when they hit walls throughout the season, citing the team’s eight-game losing streak while missing four injured players last season before bouncing back to qualify for the third round of the A-10 Championships.
As of mid-October, McCombs said she was still working out the team’s starting lineup, but the coaching staff is looking for dependable players who stuck to their roles during the offseason, like senior forward Faith Blethen, redshirt senior forward Mayowa Taiwo and senior guard Essence Brown.
McCombs said senior players have taken the freshman under their wings to help them adjust to Division I play.
McCombs said she looks to delegate more ownership of the game strategy to the players this year to prove senior leadership roles matter outside the locker room, encouraging players to take the initiative to approach the coaching staff to talk about what is and is not working on the court. She said seniors have stepped up to help freshman players adjust to Division I competition and hold them to a high standard of play.
“There are things that you go through, the growth that you have in a lot of those tough times, that you really can make you shine through those,” McCombs said. “That’s what you get the most joy out of as a coach is just seeing that growth and progress from the players.”