The Drive for Five: Women seek fifth title
Great sports teams are defined by their ability to consistently dominate the competition. Over the past four years, no team in the land has been more dominant or more focused towards attaining their goals than the Washington University women’s basketball team.
After racking up their fourth straight national championship, their eleventh conference championship in the past fourteen years, their eleventh 20-win season in the past twelve years and piling up an NCAA women’s record 81 straight wins over the past three seasons, you might think that the Bears no longer have the hunger to win. But you’d be dead wrong.
WU is out to prove to the Division III world that they can survive without their dominant stars of years past. The Bears will have to compete without the presence of former NCAA Division III Player of the Year Award winners Alia Fischer and Tasha Rodgers. The big question is whether or not this year’s squad can fill their sneakers and continue the amazing run of excellence.
Senior Lendy Stuber has no doubts that this year’s version of the perennial champs are up to the task.
“There is no question in my mind that we can go win another championship;” said Stuber, “this team is so deep and talented, it is astounding.”
It is essential that the current Bears capitalize on the knowledge they have gained from players who contributed to their past championships. Taking this knowledge and combining it with the strong team chemistry that already exists should lead WU to success this year as well.
A large part of what makes the WU women so successful is their winning attitude. Stuber characterizes this group of women saying, “Generally the attitude of the team stays the same year after year: go out and work hard, put team first and have fun. There is no other team like ours in the nation. This team is incredibly unselfish and hard working.”
The attitude and strong work ethic are in place as usual, but the Bears will have to back up their reputation on the court. The 2001-2002 roster will consist of four seniors, six juniors, five sophomores and an unprecedented nine freshmen. The starting lineup will likely feature only one starter from last season’s squad.
To that, Stuber counters: “The people coming off the bench played with those talented players everyday, making this team extremely strong.”
Last season, WU relied upon senior standout Tasha Rodgers for a consistent 20.2 points per game. The second leading scorer was senior Lindsey Merrill, also a senior, who put up 10.6 points per game. This season, things are not quite so clear-cut.
“I think that instead of relying on one dominant player, we have many people with a lot of talent that will step up on different nights,” said junior Jen Rudis.
It is hard to say who will shoulder the offensive load this year, but it presents a great opportunity for talented players such as junior Meg Sullivan and senior Robin Lahargoue to shine.
Clearly, the offense will be more diversified this year than last, but the principles will still be the same. The Bears will be patient, working the ball inside to the low post and then looking to kick it out to their potent perimeter sharpshooters. This year, the team has more offensive threats, more ways to score, and more people who will be able to score when called upon.
Athletes often talk about a “will to win.” This esoteric idea refers to the intangible notion that there are certain players and certain teams that perform well when everything is on the line, often prevailing even when the circumstances are stacked against them.
Stuber said that four years of championship experience has given the Bears an edge. “It helps in tight games, keeps our confidence and helps us relax.”
Adding to this edge is the guidance and leadership of head coach Nancy Fahey. Fahey has been with WU for fifteen seasons, during which she has amassed a 352-63 record, winning at an unfathomable .848 clip. She has twice been named Head Coach of the Year and is instrumental in holding the team together and keeping them focused on a game-to-game basis.
Reinitiating the legendary winning streak will be no small task this year. WU’s schedule features a November 30th home rematch against their trans-Wydown rivals the Fontbonne Griffins, the unlikely team that ended the 81-game winning streak last season.
WU’s toughest University Athletic Association foe will again be the NYU Violets – the only team besides Fontbonne to defeat WU in the past three seasons.
“NYU is our biggest rival,” said Rudis. “When we play, it’s two very intense teams going head to head without much love. But hey, it’s something we look forward to every year; we love to compete.”
The Bears and Violets will clash at the WU Athletic Complex on January 18th and play again in New York City on February the 17th.
This season is already being called the “Drive for Five,” and if it unfolds in the same fashion as the last four, the Bears may soon be accepting suggestions for catchy championship phrases that rhyme with six.
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