Graphic by Charles Nailen/The Hoya Led by Head Coach Pat Knapp and sophomore Rebekkah Brunson (32), the Hoyas return to the hardwood looking to improve from last season.

Going into the 2001-02 season, the Georgetown women’s basketball team will move on without one of the greatest players in school history, graduating senior guard Katie Smrcka-Duffy. Smrcka-Duffy, the team’s leading scorer the past three years and a Second Team All Big-East selection the past two years, finished her three-year career at Georgetown as the second-leading scorer in school history as well as the only Hoya ever to be drafted in the Women’s National Basketball Association.

However Smrcka-Duffy could not lead the Hoyas to the NCAA Tournament in her three years here. The last time they made the big dance was 1993, where they advanced to the Sweet 16. In Smrcka-Duffy’s last year, Georgetown ended its season in bittersweet fashion with a second round loss against James Madison in the Women’s National Invitational Tournament. After beating local rival George Mason 56-55 in the first round of the postseason tournament, it traveled to James Madison, where Smrcka-Duffy’s 32 points could not bring a victory. While the Hoyas ended their season with a respectable 17-15 overall record, they finished a disappointing eighth in the Big East Conference with a 6-10 conference record.

Head Coach Pat Knapp, who recently signed a multi-year contract, will be entering his 16th season, and believes that his team must improve on certain areas of the game in order to break Georgetown’s eight-year drought without an NCAA bid.

“We have to become a better defensive team, a better rebounding team and a better free throw shooting team,” Knapp said.

Last year, the Hoyas finished in the bottom half of the conference in defense and rebounding, and their inability to hit foul shots down the stretch cost them in close games. They shot 63 percent from the charity stripe last season.

Georgetown will also need to find new three-point shooting threats. Smrcka-Duffy as well as graduating seniors Dani Ilic and Nathalie Bourdereau combined for 103 of the team’s 132 threes.

Even with these obstacles, Knapp has high expectations for his team.

“We want to be in the top five teams in the conference to get into the NCAA tournament,” Knapp said.

Though the Hoyas were picked to finish seventh in the conference according to a preseason Big East coaches’ poll, Knapp is not fazed at all. After all, as Knapp pointed out, last season’s preseason poll did not have the foresight to pick sophomore forward Rebekkah Brunson as the Big East’s Rookie of the Year.

It is Brunson, a Preseason All-Big East First Team selection, who will carry on the torch left by Smrcka-Duffy’s departure. Brunson, who took the team and the league by storm, provided an uncontainable post presence for the Hoyas. The 6-foot-2 power forward from Oxon Hill averaged 14.8 points and a conference-leading 9.2 boards last year as she at times overshadowed Smrcka-Duffy. Brunson’s hustle gave Georgetown valuable second chance opportunities. She also led the team with 28 blocks as her inside defensive presence altered shots in the post.

Brunson will be leading Georgetown’s strong and deep frontcourt, featuring a bevy of six-footers.

“We’re deeper than we’ve ever been in the post,” Knapp said.

“Our post is really strong and teams can’t stop us one-on-one there,” senior guard Lesley Walker said.

Key returning players in the frontcourt include junior forward Zsuzanna Horvath, junior center Suzy Bendegue and junior forward Santia Jackson. After sitting out her first year due to transfer status, Horvath provided a spark off the bench with her 8.3 points per game and 3.9 rebounds. The 6-foot-3 power forward from Hungary proved that she belonged on the court at key moments of the game with her aggressive playing style.

Bendegue, the Big East’s tallest player in history at 6-foot-10 will try to make up for lost time. The junior center from Cameroon saw limited action in 13 games last year due to various injuries and averaged only 3.7 points and 1.5 boards per game. She will be relied upon to take the load off Brunson’s shoulders and contribute both offensively and defensively. Teams will also have to think twice about taking the ball inside. Amazingly, in the 13 games she played, Bendegue blocked 17 shots in total.

Jackson, a Chicago native, will take on a bigger role in the Hoyas’ scheme this year. Jackson, who served in a reserve role, played in 26 games and added instant energy to both the offense and defense.

Bolstering the frontcourt even more will be the welcoming return of junior forward Nok Duany from injury. The six-foot Duany missed all of last season due to a torn anterior crucior ligament, but contributed in a big way her freshman year. She was the team’s third leading scorer during the 1999-00 season with 8 points per game and provided an intimidating post presence as well.

Two new faces in the Hoyas’ frontcourt will be sophomore forward Varda Tamoulianis and freshman forward Christina Besozzi. Tamoulianis, a 6-foot-3 native of Moscow, sat out all of last year as a transfer, but will use her size and speed to add a new dimension in Georgetown’s plans. The 5-foot-10 Besozzi is a product of Stone Ridge High School in nearby Kensington, Md.

The Hoyas’ seemingly endless supply of veteran post players contrasts the lack of experience in the backcourt. Along with Smrcka-Duffy, Georgetown lost three-point specialist Ilic and point guard Porshia Jones to graduation. However the team’s lone senior, point guard Lesley Walker returns, and wants to make up for an inconsistent junior campaign.

“I wasn’t satisfied with myself last year,” Walker said. “I need to be vocal and lead by example.”

Walker, who played both guard positions last year, displayed her big-game ability last year with a few game-winning shots. She averaged 8.2 points a contest and distributed a team-high 139 assists. This year, with the absence of Smrcka-Duffy, Walker will be relied on to shoot the ball more this year with the absence of experienced shooters.

“I’m going to be playing more of a two-guard this year,” Walker said. “I’m going to need to shoot more this year.”

Joining Walker in the backcourt from last year’s team are junior guards Shawntese Charles, Joi Irby and Zekeera Belton. Charles is the only one of the three to have started last year. Charles, a 5-foot-9 local from Washington’s St. John’s High School, started 21 of the 30 games she played in, and averaged 3.7 points and 2.4 boards per contest.

Irby, another two-guard, is a 5-foot-8 shooter out of Richmond who saw little action in 14 games last year. However, Irby as well as Charles will have to establish a presence on the outside to take defenses away from the post.

“Now it’s Shawntese and Joi’s turn to step up into a bigger role,” Knapp said.

Belton, a 5-foot-5 point guard from New York, is another player who saw little action last year but will be counted to step up this year.

Georgetown’s newest face in the backcourt, 5-foot-9 freshman guard Mary Lisicky, will have the opportunity to make an instant impact early in her career. The Whitehall graduate could step in and play a lot of minutes at both guard positions.

“Mary is a great shooter and can see the court well,” Walker said.

The Hoyas will once again face stiff competition in one of the toughest conferences in the nation. Four Big East teams finished in the top 25 according to last year’s final ESPN/USA Today Coaches’ Poll. They included national champion, No. 1 Notre Dame, as well as perennial powerhouse and Final Four team, No. 3 Connecticut. In their non-conference schedule, Georgetown will also face No. 8 Duke.

However, Horvath sees these tough match-ups as valuable learning experiences.

“I’m always excited to play against good teams,” Horvath said. “We usually play our best against those teams.”

To have a chance at these nationally ranked teams, it is important that this year’s Hoyas are finally healthy for the first time in a while.

“Our bench is deeper with healthy players, and we don’t have to play five people for 40 minutes,” Horvath said.

“It’s a welcome sight to see Nok and Suzy back,” Knapp said.

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