The Washington and Lee women's basketball program has seen a lot of firsts over the past couple of seasons, winning the first conference title and advancing to its first NCAA Tournament in 2010 and setting a program record with 19 wins last season. While both were landmark accomplishments for the program, ninth-year Head Coach Mandy King has her sights set on more in 2011-12.
"It takes a special program to win a title, but to win more than one means that you are building a tradition," she said. "That's what we're aiming for, building a tradition of success."
King knows her own expectations, and those of her team, are as high as they have ever been. Despite that fact, she doesn't want them to lose sight of why they chose to play the game at W&L.
"The most important thing for this group is to enjoy every moment that comes their way," she noted. "They need to focus on the relationships that they have built, enjoy every moment and work as hard as they can on their skills and building team chemistry. That will allow us to improve every day and to play our best when it matters the most."
Despite a roster that includes just nine players, King returns plenty for another crack at a conference title. Of note are the program's four seniors, who have been a cornerstone of the team's success over their first three seasons.
"I think going into this season, the first thing that comes to mind is how special the senior class really is," King exclaimed. "They have already had a career that is unmatched by any other class and we've had some pretty good ones."
The 2011-12 senior class includes two 1,000-point scorers and two of the top four three-point shooters in program history. Guards Meg Ingram (5-foot-6) and Kari Ann Pfannenstein (5-foot-11) will serve as the team captains, with post player Becca Bolton (5-foot-9) also providing plenty of leadership and experience. Guard Allison Sublett (5-foot-7) joined the team as a sophomore as has been a steady contributor off the bench ever since.
"We have high expectations for this season and we are trying to make sure that the seniors honor the opportunity that they have," said King. "We want them to walk away knowing that they are the best class we've ever had."
No one player is more important than the other in King's rotation, but few will have the ball in their hands more than Ingram, who will play plenty of point guard during her final campaign. A starter for all 81 games over her first three seasons, Ingram has totaled 1,178 points (6th all-time) and is third all-time with 343 assists. She has also drilled a school-record 194 three-pointers. Last season, she earned First Team All-ODAC and First Team All-State laurels after averaging 15.0 points, a league-best 5.1 assists and 3.3 rebounds per game.
"Meg is one of the most skilled, competitive and passionate players we have ever had," said King. "We are excited to see what she can do with the ball in her hands in the open floor. She is one of the best in Division III because she can get to the rim, can shoot off the bounce and she has great range. Having the ball in her hands will not only increase her point production, but it will also make everyone better because of how well she sees the floor and distributes the ball."
Pfannenstein also brings plenty of experience to the floor, having started all 55 games over the last two seasons and playing in all 81 games across her first three years with the team. She has also improved every season, increasing her scoring from 5.1 points per game as a first-year, to 6.8 as a sophomore and 8.3 last season. For her career, she has 547 points and 233 rebounds, and she ranks fourth all-time with 110 three-pointers.
"Kari Ann is our most consistent shooter and has the deepest range on her shot," stated King. "I think that we can take advantage of the 3-point line moving back to the men's line because of her shooting ability and range. I think she will have a breakout year because she can defend and score in a variety of ways."
Bolton is no slouch in the scoring department and is also the team's most versatile, and perhaps the most complete player. A First Team All-ODAC and Honorable Mention All-America selection as a sophomore, she joined the team midway through the season in 2010-11 after participating in academic commitments off campus and took a while to get her legs back. Despite this fact, she still averaged 14.6 points, 7.4 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 2.0 steals per game in earning Second Team All-ODAC honors last winter. For her career, Bolton has scored 1,042 points (9th all-time) and grabbed 653 rebounds (T5th all-time) in 74 games played (64 starts).
"Internally, we always talk about team goals and we rarely talk about individuals, but I am so excited about the senior season that Becca is about to have," stated King. "She is all in and I don't know if I have ever seen a player so determined. She is our go-to player in the paint and one of the best rebounders in the league. Her determination is what really sets her apart from other players, but her versatility will be very difficult for other teams to deal with."
King expects the starting lineup to fill out with another pair of experienced veterans. Juniors Katy Wilson (5-foot-9) and Rachel Warrick (5-foot-9) will man the small and power forward positions. Both provide additional versatility with the ability to play inside and out.
"This group of players is known for sharing the ball and being disciplined and because of our versatility, we're going to get out and run a bit more," said King. "We have wing and post players that can play with their back to the basket or step out and shoot the three and I expect for us to be one of the top scoring teams in the league."
Wilson and Warrick will only enhance the team's versatility with their style of play. Wilson started 20 games a season ago, averaging 8.6 points, 8.2 rebounds, 1.7 assists and 1.1 steals per game, while shooting just over 50 percent (86-170, .506) from the floor.
"What makes Katy so special is her competitive spirit on every play," said King. "I've never seen her take a play off. You know what you are going to get from her on every possession and she is even better when the pressure is on and we need someone to make a play. She has consistent 3-point range, moves well without the ball and can finish with her back to the basket. She's also one of the most intelligent players I have ever coached."
Warrick played in 27 games last season with three starts. She averaged 5.6 points and 3.0 rebounds per game and shot 75 percent (39-52) from the foul line.
"Rachel has really improved her game this season – she is making better decisions with the basketball and is taking higher quality shots," said King. "She is a great teammate and is better conditioned and has improved her strength. I think you'll see her run the floor very well and apply significant pressure on defense."
Sublett played in 22 games last season, averaging 1.5 points and 1.1 rebounds per game. Marks saw action in 26 contests, contributing 1.0 points and 0.7 rebounds per outing.
"Allison worked really hard over the summer and is one of our best defenders," said King. "She'll compete for starting minutes and will be a huge spark off the bench."
As for Marks, King noted that "she is not the same player because her confidence is better than ever. She has toughness and her experience is serving her well. She will give us better depth at guard and she will put up consistent numbers this season."
King believes that Gauf can also challenge for plenty of minutes at guard, especially at the point where she may allow Ingram to play some without the ball. Gauf helped lead James Madison High School to a pair of district titles while earning three letters.
"Annie has the potential to be one of the best point guards ever in our program," said King. "She has a high basketball IQ and is strong with the ball. With a little more experience she is really going to flourish."
Maguire will also provide help from the bench as a wing player after a solid four-year career at Regis Jesuit High in Colorado.
"Maddie is fundamentally sound and gives it everything she has on the court," said King. "The more comfortable she gets, the more opportunities she will get to produce on the court."
As for the pressures involved with being one of the top teams in the league, King believes that her 2011-12 squad has their eyes wide open and ready to attack the schedule.
"I think that we handled last season pretty well with the target on our back after being picked No. 1 in the preseason ODAC poll," she said. "We've been through that experience of being the team that everyone was shooting for and I think this year we don't feel any pressure outside of our own locker room. I'm expecting a great season and as a team we are set on just enjoying the moment. We are extremely close, just like a family, and we can see all our expectations coming to fruition this season."
It all gets underway on November 15, as the Generals play host to perennial NCAA Tournament contender Mary Washington at 7:00 pm.