FILE PHOTO: CLAIRE SOISSON/THE HOYA Senior guard Katie McCormick scored 7.9 points per game last season.
Senior guard Katie McCormick scored 7.9 points per game last season.

Every time members of the Georgetown women’s basketball team stepped onto the court last season, they battled far more than just the opposing team. Obstacles past and present combined, resulting in a 4-27 record for the Hoyas and a last-place finish in the Big East.

The Hoyas were playing under their third head coach in three seasons, Natasha Adair. For the third consecutive season, they had to start from scratch. For the third consecutive season, they faced an entirely new set of standards and systems of play. And for the third consecutive season, they had to put their trust in a new leader and have faith that leader would be someone who deserved it.

“In this process of coaching, you don’t gain trust overnight. And for a group — they’ve gone through a lot. … And so to come in and say, ‘I’m the one’ for a crew — they’ve heard that before. It just wasn’t going to happen overnight,” Adair said. “We had to grow and trust throughout the year while building relationships, while coaching, while they’re trying to figure me out as well. So you’ve got to imagine how hard that was for them.”

In addition to the absence of familiar leadership on the sideline, Georgetown also lacked experienced leadership on the court. There was not a single senior on the Hoyas’ roster last year and, of the team’s five juniors, only two averaged more than 20 minutes per game during their sophomore seasons.

“I blame myself, and a lot of my teammates, my class at least. We didn’t step up at the times we needed to. I think in those situations the leadership needed to be a little more,” senior guard Katie McCormick said. “We didn’t have as much leadership as we should have.”

The absence of experienced leaders required returning players to transition into unfamiliar roles. The most prominent example was senior forward Dominique Vitalis. During her freshman and sophomore seasons, Vitalis was a role player, averaging only 10 minutes and three points per game.

In her junior season, Vitalis became an integral part of the team. Vitalis went from not starting a single game during her sophomore season to starting all 31 games for the Hoyas last season. Her playing time increased significantly and she managed to triple her offensive production. Vitalis averaged 24.8 minutes and 9.1 points per game.

“Even with juniors [on the roster], we were young in experience,” Adair said. “[Vitalis] had the best year of her career and she doubled minutes total, she doubled points total. So it was still new to everyone. They used to have former players who would take those shots.”

The Hoyas also relied heavily on their freshman class. Georgetown consistently started two freshmen, one of whom was guard DiDi Burton, who was tasked with leading the team’s offense from the point guard position.

“She came in as a freshman and she was given a big position as the point guard; you take a lot of responsibility as the point guard,” Vitalis said of Burton.

Burton started 24 of the Hoyas’ 31 games last season. She led the team in assists with 96 and was second in steals with 37. However, Burton also turned the ball over 73 times, the second-highest number of turnovers committed by anyone on the team and an example of the inexperience that plagued Georgetown last season.

Another freshman who immediately became an essential component of the Hoyas’ roster was guard Dorothy Adomako. Named Preseason Big East Freshman of the Year, Adomako was one of only two Hoyas to earn conference preseason honors last year.

Adomako started every game last season and led the team in both scoring and rebounding, averaging 13.1 points and 6.8 rebounds per game. Adomako was the leading scorer in 11 of the Hoyas’ 31 games and the leading rebounder in 10 of them. In seven games, she led Georgetown in both of those categories.

In a season without much to celebrate, Adomako was a bright spot for Georgetown, receiving the Big East Freshman of the Week title on five occasions and the Big East Freshman of the Year award at the conclusion of the regular season. In addition, Adomako was a unanimous Preseason All-Big East selection going into this season.

“We’re excited that they respect [Adomako] in the league and the coaches do, but the team wants to hold up the trophy,” Adair said. “And so it’s a team deal, so she doesn’t say much about those personal accolades. And we’re proud of her, we don’t want to diminish them, but the bigger goal is for the group.”

Despite Adomako’s status as one of the best players in the conference, her individual performance could not negate all the other challenges confronting the team.

FILE PHOTO: STANLEY DAI/THE HOYA Senior forward Dominique Vitalis was one of Georgetown’s top scorers in 2014-15.
Senior forward Dominique Vitalis was one of Georgetown’s top scorers in 2014-15.

Of Georgetown’s four wins last season, two were against nonconference opponents. In November, Georgetown beat Maryland Eastern Shore in its first game of the year by a 13-point margin and then defeated Loyola in a 27-point rout five days later.

Following the victory over Loyola, Georgetown did not win another game until early January — a drought spanning nearly two months — when it beat Big East rival Marquette in the team’s second conference game of the season. Georgetown managed to win only one other game in regular season conference play, defeating Providence by seven points a week after the win over Marquette.

That win against Providence would be the Hoyas’ last. Georgetown lost 15 straight games to close out the season and finished Big East play with a 2-16 record — the worst in the conference.

However, Georgetown did not lack opportunities to win games. The team’s 15-game losing streak included seven games in which the opponent’s margin of victory was less than 10. The Hoyas struggled to close out games down the stretch, frequently finding that they had a chance to win in the final minutes of play but were unable to get necessary scores or defensive stops to finish the game on top.

“Teams either talk about how they need to learn how to be good starters or good finishers, and we need to be better finishers,” senior guard/forward Logan Battle said. “Just to be able to not give up, to keep finishing, one last [play] at the end of a game. And we didn’t really have that last year.”

Vitalis echoed Battle’s comments, citing inconsistency as one of the issues plaguing the team last season.

“We would start a game great, be right in it up until the end, and then we have to be the same team all throughout. We have to get the same stops from the beginning to the end and just finish it all the way through. So I just think consistency all the way through the game is what kind of limited us from really finishing those games,” Vitalis said.

The Hoyas’ inconsistency and inability to finish games down the stretch showed in an overtime loss to Big East rival Seton Hall. A powerhouse in the Big East last year, the Pirates finished the regular season with a league-best 15-3 record. Seton Hall was the runner-up in the postseason conference tournament, falling to DePaul in the final, and also qualified for the NCAA tournament as a No. 9 seed.

The Pirates visited McDonough Arena in late January for the first of two scheduled matchups with the Hoyas. Entering the game, Seton Hall was 18-2 and 7-1 in the Big East. Georgetown was 4-16 and 2-6 in conference play.

The Hoyas led by as many as 12 points in the first half and entered the locker room at the break with a nine-point lead. Georgetown continued to lead for much of the second half as well, but the Pirates battled back, tying the game with 19 seconds left to play.

Adair called a timeout with 12 seconds remaining on the clock and drew up a play designed to give McCormick a chance to take a shot to win the game. McCormick took a three-pointer as time expired that missed the mark, sending the game into overtime.

“I would draw the same play and I would put the ball in Katie’s hands again. I wouldn’t change a thing,” Adair said. “She beats herself up. … Katie is the ultimate competitor and she has probably watched that game a million times, but like I told her, ‘I can’t wait to play them again, I can’t wait to put the ball in your hands again.’”

In overtime, Seton Hall dominated, putting up 17 points and allowing the Hoyas to score only three. The five-minute period ended with the Pirates leading 99-85. It was a disappointing result for Georgetown in what was one of the most memorable games of the season.

“We played well in that game. I thought we executed, I thought we had some pushback. Even [Anthony Bozzella], the coach, after the game he said, ‘Coach, I don’t want to see you guys again.’ And it was just out of respect, but every game, in my opinion, was like that. Every game was just that little bit of oomph and just who’s going to get us over the hump,” Adair said.

This season, many of the obstacles that held Georgetown back last year are now strengths. Last season’s lack of senior leadership means that this season the Hoyas do not have to worry about filling voids left by graduation. Last year’s heavy reliance on freshmen means that this season the Hoyas have an experienced sophomore class that is better integrated into the team.

“Everything was new last season,” Vitalis said. “We had a new coach, we had new people coming in, and we had to get acquainted. So this year, we’re comfortable with each other. … We got a chance to bond, and so now we feel more connected as a family.”

Perhaps most importantly, the Hoyas hope to be stronger because of continuity in the coaching staff.

“Having stability, it’s great. I know I’m going to have Coach ‘A’ walking every day into practice and just to feel like she’s got me, we have the same thing going every day and that’s a good thing,” McCormick said.

Georgetown will put these strengths to the test for the first time against Maryland Eastern Shore on Nov. 13. Tipoff is set for 6 p.m.

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