The Georgetown women’s basketball team is ready to take the next step.
It is hard to believe that the program is just two seasons removed from a horrid 4-27 finish to the the 2014-15 campaign. Former head coach Natasha Adair, who helped turn the team around in her three-year tenure with the Hoyas, departed the program for the same position at the University of Delaware. The Hoyas found their replacement in associate coach James Howard, who seems primed to continue Adair’s work.
A collaborative relationship between the two coaches laid the groundwork for a smooth transition. Rather than ignore the past and begin anew, Howard has embraced the successes of Adair’s tenure while looking to build upon them.
“It will be a little change but for the most part, because I was blessed by Coach A to implement a lot, we will be able to continue to build off what we have done in the past,” Howard said.
The team finished last year with a 17-13 record, good for sixth in the Big East and a National Invitational Tournament (NIT) bid, but Howard expects even greater things this season. While the tournament is clearly on his mind, it is clear that the team will need to work tremendously hard to reach the heights he desires.
“We’re hoping that this year maybe it’s not the NIT, maybe it’s the NCAA. But it’s going to take a lot of time, commitment, health, and chemistry to get us there,” Howard said.
Georgetown faces tough competition in the Big East conference where the team sits at fifth place in the preseason rankings. After struggling in conference play last year, finishing with a 9-9 record, the Blue & Gray will need to step up if they wish to become a leader in the Big East. Fortunately, Howard has been eyeing the necessary adjustments for the team to improve.
“I think the biggest thing going forward is that we come together as a team defensively and that we communicate and we are tough,” he said.
This emphasis on defense is evident in Howard’s chosen practice schedule. After working on offensive fundamentals for a half-hour, the focus switches sharply to defense. “The next hour-and-a-half is based on defense,” Howard said. “We are doing the next 30 minutes of defensive shells.”
Establishing a strong defensive identity has required some new schemes, namely zone defense. “I’ve played zone before. It’s kind of different but we’ve been working on it every day in practice so I’m getting adjusted to it,” junior guard Dionna White said. That adjustment will be a key factor if the team is going to get stops against the heavy hitters in the Big East.
Though the emphasis has been on the defensive end, the Hoyas have proven their ability on offense. Led by White, who averaged 15.2 points per game last year and captured second team All-Big East honors, the team has a variety of scoring weapons. The addition of newly eligible senior guard Mikayla Venson is a major asset for Georgetown. Venson set the single season three-pointers record before transferring from the University of Virginia.
“We’re looking forward to Mikayla and her ability to shoot the ball from outside but also her ability to put it on the floor and get to the basket,” Howard said. “We think that she’s going to open up a lot of different options for other players.”
The trio of Venson, White, and senior guard DiDi Burton will excite fans and irritate opposing defenses. Howard has considered running a lineup featuring the three at various points during the game or even starting all three.
“We are looking at different lineups to see what’s best, but that’s not a bad idea,” Howard said.
A strong freshman class, headlined by forward Tatiana Thompson, will be pivotal for the team’s success.
“[Thompson] has the ability to make a major impact here during her four years at Georgetown in the Big East Conference,” Howard said.
Howard also touted the development of freshman center Breonna Mayfield and freshman guard Lexi Kimball, while acknowledging that they may need some time to develop. “I think they’re all working on the speed of the game right now,” he said.
The Hoyas will be without forward Faith Woodard this season, who graduated after last season. Woodard averaged 14.3 points, 7.6 rebounds, and 1.5 blocks per game last year, and will be difficult to replace. However, Coach Howard sees a greater contribution coming from senior forward Cynthia Petke and Thompson’s growth as a way to fill that hole.
“I think [Petke] could be the sleeper in the Big East this year, barring no injuries,” Howard said. “Something inside me is telling me Cynthia is ready for that breakout year.”
The team benefits from the presence of upperclassmen who have experience in postseason play, who Howard expects to fill leadership roles.
“I think that’s really important just because they have the experience to coach the younger players,” White said. “With a new coach it can be hard trying to adjust, so having that person you can talk to other than a coach is very helpful.”
Above all, Howard has a vision for the program that begins with this season. “Long-term vision is to put it back on the top,” he said. “We don’t want to settle for just the round of 32. We want to see if we can knock down the door and put something more significant up, maybe a Sweet Sixteen.”