Georgetown Hopes 10-Win Turnaround Is No Fluke

By Michael Medici Hoya Staff Writer

At the very first team meeting for the women’s basketball team last fall, the team wanted to be the comeback team of the year. Coming off a 9-19 record in the 1997-98 season, the Hoyas needed improvement in virtually every facet of their game – and they got it.

In fact, only nine other teams in the country improved more than Georgetown did this season. With an 18-12 record, Georgetown earned its second post-season berth in the program’s history, but lost 86-73 in the first round if the National Invitation Tournament to Siena.

The team had many big wins along the way to give them the post-season berth, none of which bigger than the 64-59 win over the Boston College Eagles in the second round of the Big East tournament.

An 18-point win at Miami on Jan. 26 and a 64-61 win against Villanova in the last regular season game of the year (which secured the fifth seed in the Big East Tournament) were also very important victories.

The team lost seven games to nationally ranked teams that eventually made it to the NCAA tournament, including three losses to Connecticut. One of those losses, at home against Rutgers, saw the Hoyas bounce back from a 21-0 deficit and force the Scarlet Knights into double overtime before eventually losing 67-64.

One Can Make Difference

Although Head Coach Patrick Knapp was quick to credit everyone in the program for the improvement, even the team managers, he recognized the efforts of sophomore guard Katie Smrcka-Duffy in particular.

“She’s a heck of a player,” Knapp said. “She meant so much to this team, to the league, to make everyone be better. She has such a drive and dedication to be the best.”

In her first year after transferring from North Carolina State, she led the Hoyas in scoring 21 times this year, compiling an average of exactly 20 points per game. That average was good for top in the Big East and 35th in the country. She ranked first on the team in points (599), assists (104), steals (50), field goal percentage (43.0) and free throw percentage (84.6), and second on the team in rebounding with 5.1 boards per game.

There Is No `I’ in Team

When teams focused too much on stopping Smrcka-Duffy, the Hoyas relied on their seniors to step up and score big baskets when their star was shut down. Sylita Thomas, Melba Chambers and Katie Heindel all stepped up and vastly improved from a year ago, and contributed greatly to the Hoyas’ success.

Thomas led the team in rebounding and finished just five boards shy of leading the conference, as she averaged 8.6 a game. She averaged 12.6 points per game and led the team in blocks with 38 on the year.

“If you look at her numbers over the last three years, she is a very consistent player. We could always count on her,” Knapp said of Thomas. “Other teams had to make it a point to stop her.”

Chambers, who missed half of the 97-98 season, was a major part of the team all year, finishing second on the team in scoring with a 13.2 average, and fourth in the team in rebounding. Knapp thought Chambers deserved the most improved player award in the Big East, but other coaches thought differently, as Alissa Murphy of Boston College received the award.

“She came back to really help us,” Thomas said of Chambers.

Heindel played solidly all year as well, providing a presence at the post the team needed. Though not a big scoring threat, she finished third on the team in rebounding and fourth in scoring.

One of the bright spots of the season also had to be freshman point guard Leslie Walker, who came in and started 21 games at one of the most crucial positions on the floor. She averaged 5.3 points per game, and visibly improved every game. Knapp left his praise of his point guard up to the head coach from Connecticut, Geno Auriemma.

“That kid is a player,” Auriemma told Knapp. “She’s going to be good.”

Auriemma knows a thing or two about talent, too, having coached the likes of Rebecca Lobo, Kara Walters and Nykesha Sales.

Sophomore forward Nathalie Bourdereau came off the bench all season to give solid minutes down low in terms of rebounding and defense.

But Knapp didn’t end the credit there, as he recognizes everyone contributed on some level.

“We had to step up against big and physical teams, and we did,” Knapp said. “You can’t eliminate anybody.”

Leaving Seniors

Georgetown loses four seniors off this year’s team, and their holes will have to be filled in order to continue the success next year. Three out of the top four rebounders and two of the top three scorers are gone. In Thomas and Heindel, the Hoyas lose their two best and most experienced big people, and Chambers was a slasher few could guard one-on-one who will surely be missed. Corey Borgman started just two games this year but, being a Rhodes Scholar finalist, has much basketball IQ that coach Knapp will miss.

“All of us stepped up,” Thomas said of the senior group. “Maybe our experience helped.”

Thomas ends her career with 1,338 career points, 11.9 per game, and 904 rebounds, 8.1 per game.

“I was consistent,” Thomas said of her career. “I came and rebounded every game.”

She hopes to continue playing professionally, though she doesn’t know exactly where, and will spend the spring and summer improving her game.

“I’m never satisfied,” Thomas said, “I need a little more strength driving to the basket. I just want to play.”

On Next Year

The Hoyas have established a precedent to keep in mind for next year, as now they take aim at the top teams in the Big East that were rarely beaten by the rest of the league.

“We’ll have to do some things different,” Knapp said. “It’s a matter of how hard individuals want to work.”

Smrcka-Duffy will be back along with Walker in the back court, and Jewel Snowden, transfer from the University of Cincinnati, will also come in and provide instant help. Snowden is a 5-foot-6 guard who sat out this year due to NCAA transfer rules, but practiced, and practiced well according to Knapp. Snowden has three years of eligibility remaining.

Practice begins now for the hardworking Smrcka-Duffy, and she hopes the other members of the team feel the same way.

“We were inconsistent at certain positions this year,” she said. “This is the first day of next year and I hope than everyone feels the same way. We need to have the same output everyday next year.”

Bourdereau will surely see a dramatic increase in minutes next year, and Knapp hopes 6-foot-5 sophomore Danielle Hurley can bounce back from recurring injuries to contribute next year as well.

There will also be spots open for the incoming freshmen, and Knapp doesn’t hide that fact.

“Somebody’s going to have to come in to play,” Knapp said.

Judging from how he let Walker lead the team’s offense as a freshman this year, he won’t be afraid to– consider doing the same next season.

 

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