Washington Mystics Turning Heads
Loudly stating to WNBA, “Don’t count us out.”
by Stephen Litel / @stephenlitel
One of the surprises early into the WNBA season is the play of the Washington Mystics. After a season-ending injury before the season began to team star Alana Beard, many wrote off the squad. Yet, the team wanted to make a statement early on to the doubters, essentially saying, “Don’t count us out.” With a record of 3-0 out of the gate, the Mystics statement rang throughout the WNBA very loudly.
“We want to steal as many games as we can on the road,” said new Mystic Katie Smith. “Obviously, Indiana is the measuring stick for the East with what they did last year and their whole squad is back. It’s early, but as I said, we’ll take whatever we can. For us, it’s about getting wins and trying to get better every night.”
Team general manager Angela Taylor loves her team. She is working to build a team that will compete for a WNBA championship and appreciates how her team is beginning the 2010 season. Before their home win against New York, the Mystics went on the road into two hostile arenas and came away with wins.
“We always think of the WNBA season as a sprint, so you do really need to get off to a good start and sustain it in order to challenge and compete for one of four spots in the playoffs,” said Taylor. “It was important for us to get off to a good start and we have some new pieces on our roster. We had a great training camp, so to go on the road and win against two really good teams is nice. Home openers for our opponents too. Indiana was hanging their banner and talking about all the wonderful things last year and then come to Minnesota. It’s Lindsey Whalen’s first home game in Minnesota with a great crowd on hand and get another victory. It’s nice, but we also need to continue to improve.”
Even with their early season success, the Mystics would much prefer to have the injured Alana Beard on the court with them. After all, Beard is a career 16.2 point per game scorer, but her greatest asset may be on the defensive end of the court. She is ferocious on defense, making life difficult for the opposing team and her offense does not allow them to let up on the other end of the court. Undoubtedly, it would be wonderful to have her on the floor, but the team has enough talent without her to compete.
“Obviously, you wish she was out there because she adds so much to the team offensively and defensively,” said Smith. “She’s just such a threat and a competitor, but that’s the way it is. Everybody has things here or there throughout the season, but for us, we were able to prepare for it, understanding that all of us have to be ready to play every night. It’s not ‘Lindsey has to do it all,’ ‘Monique has to do it all’ and I don’t have to do it all. It’s just a matter of everyone understanding what we’re trying to get done and we all have to be mentally and physically ready to play. We have to pick up the slack by committee.”
Without Beard, the team is still very talented and they are stepping up to the plate, as needed. Players like Katie Smith and Lindsey Harding are playing well, as is Nakia Sanford after taking some criticism for her play in the past. Yet, the player doing the heavy lifting to this point is Monique Currie, who is an early front-runner for the MVP award. Currie is averaging 22.0 points per game on 56% shooting and 50% from behind the three-point line. She is also hitting her free throws at an amazing 95% clip.
“You know that injuries happen in sports and you can never prepare to lose your franchise player, but if you look at Monique Currie, Lindsey Harding, Katie Smith and all these players we have on our roster, everyone knows that they have to step up,” said Taylor. “On paper, everything looks different than what actually happens on the court, so I think the season is just beginning and we realize that we are one of twelve teams that has an equal opportunity to win a WNBA championship and that’s our mindset going into it.”
But how is this all possible? It would have been understandable for the team to go through the motions during the season, expecting in their own hearts and minds that they would miss out on the playoffs. However, they have gone the other route, choosing to prove many people wrong who doubted them.
“I think that goes back to last year with the way we finished the season,” said Taylor. “Playing in the playoffs against the eventual Eastern Conference champion Indiana Fever, we felt we were very competitive in that series and had an opportunity to move on. You know, a possession here or there and we could have moved on, so there’s a lot of confidence coming out and we have a lot of those players returning. The entire off-season has been focused on not just getting to the playoffs, but getting beyond the playoffs. That’s the foundation.”
That experience in last season’s playoffs build a confident foundation, making the team believe that they are capable of great things. Of course, Katie Smith–who is a WNBA legend–always expects great things of herself and her teams. Even though she is only about a week into her Mystic career, she sees the potential of her new team and chooses to be an emotional leader for the squad, never allowing them to get down on themselves.
“I think we can play with anybody,” said Smith. “Every night is going to be tough because if you don’t show up, you’re going to get beat. We have the individual players, but we also have a great group and our defense will keep us in games when we’re not shooting the ball well. We will compete every night, we will be in ball games and it’s just a matter of making those plays down the stretch to hopefully get those W’s.”
Crystal Langhorne, who is averaging 15.0 points and 93 rebounds per game, sums up the Mystics mindset for the 2010 season perfectly. When asked if fans, as well as the media wrote off the 2010 Washington Mystics, Langhorne spoke bluntly.
“Yeah, I think so, but we don’t want to listen to that too much,” said Langhorne. “We know the team we have and what we are capable of and I think we have great players on our team and play well together. We do want to prove some people wrong.”
So far, they are turning many heads.