Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Reflection: Old Dominion

Tia Lewis
2010-11 season: 20-11, 14-4 CAA; Lost in the QF of the CAA Tournament to Delaware and upset by Loyola in the first round of the WNIT.

Who's leaving?: Jasmine Parker (11.8 ppg, 4.3 apg), Shadasia Green (8.5 ppg, 5.7 rpg), Alena Voronina (11.3, 5.4 ppg), Kquanise Byrd (7.5 ppg)

Who's coming: Myeisha Hall, 5-8 guard, Palm Beach Lakes High (Fla.): Finalist for Pathfinder Award recognizing female achievement in sports; McDonald's All-American award finalist; Scored 37 points to help Palm Beach Lakes clinch No. 1 seed in District 15-5A playoffs; Named First Team All State, Florida Athletic Coaches Association; Named 5A Player of Year by Florida Association of Basketball Coaches; Averaged 24.2 ppg, 8.3 rpg, drained 55 3-pointers her senior season; Queen Tiye Jackson, 5-11 forward, Trenton Catholic (N.J.): Powered Trenton Catholic to its fourth state title in five years; Led Trenton Catholic to NJSIAA Tournament of Champions title with 16 points, 7 rebounds, 2 blocks, 2 steals; Tiffany Minor, 5-11 forward, The Maret School (Washington D.C.): Averaged 15.4 ppg her senior year; 2011 Finalist, Girls Subway 3-point Shootout; Ashley Betz-White, 5-3 guard, Trinity (Pa.): First Team Patriot-News' "Big 15" team despite being hampered by a knee injury that forced her to miss eight games this season. Scored 1,000th point on Jan. 2; Kaneisha Atwater, 5-7 guard, Fort Pierce Atwater (Fla.): Averaged 29.2 ppg, 6.2 apg, drained 10 3-pointers her senior season; Earned the sixth triple-double of her senior season in the first round of the district playoffs; Ranked ninth all time in the state in 400 meters (1:02.17).

High point: Victories over Georgia Tech (65-63) and Louisville (69-65)

Low point: First-ever CAA Tournament QF loss to Delaware; Falling on home floor to Loyola 67-65

Stock of program: Bumpy times

What has happened to the Lady Monarchs? Look at their overall record and note their 2010-11 nonconference wins over NCAA Tournament teams Louisville, Georgia Tech and James Madison, and it's easy to say, whatever do you mean? Look closer and you'll find Wendy Larry's program in uncharted territory.

First, some history. This team dominated a conference in a way that no program in the nation has ever duplicated, winning 17 straight conference championships, and at one point, 113 straight CAA games. ODU wins in the CAA weren't news during that span -- it was a time when a victory by fewer than 10 points was noteworthy, and the rare conference loss was front page news.

Flash back to Jan. 25, 2009, ODU ahead by double digits over James Madison when down went point guard Jazzmin Walters. The senior returned for a series, but hobbled off with what was later diagnosed as a broken leg. Things have never been the same in Lady Monarch-land since.

ODU lost that game 72-67, its first CAA loss of the 2009-10 season and only the third time the Lady Monarchs had ever dropped a league contest on their home floor.  What followed was six more conference losses: to VCU, Hofstra, James Madison again, Drexel, Georgia State and George Mason, a victor over ODU for the first time in 45 games.

A semifinal loss to Drexel in the CAA Tournament -- ODU's first-ever in the event -- ended ODU's run of 17 consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances.The loss itself wasn't as stunning as the immediate acceptance of the defeat.

Year after year ODU teams talked about not wanting to be the team that ended the streak. But when it was all said and done, no player took ownership of starting a new streak and upholding a tradition that is among the richest in the sport. Life simply went on; the sun came up even though the Lady Monarchs were no longer CAA champs.

The 2009-10 team put together a fine record on paper. The conference has improved and four losses in the CAA, disappointing by Lady Monarch standards, is hardly egregious. Look closer. One of the losses was to Northeastern. Another was to Towson, on senior night at the Constant Center in front of Clarisse Machanguana, Lucienne Berthieu, Mery Andrade, Natalie Diaz, T.J. Jordan, Shareese Grant -- players who hadn't a clue what a loss at home to a conference foe felt like.

Now we come to this season, which ODU started off in inspiring fashion, putting together the best nonconference win slate of any team in the CAA. The Lady Monarchs would have had an at-large case for an NCAA Tourney bid, only like the prior two seasons, they struggled in their own league -- swept by VCU, beaten at Drexel and finally stunned by 17 at the CAA Tournament by Delaware, showing little fight and even less ferver. Playing in front of 450 folks, ODU ended its season at home with a first-round WNIT loss to Loyola, a team that frankly shouldn't be in ODU's zip code.

What has happened to the Lady Monarchs, who had at least one first team All-CAA Player in 17 of the first 18 years in the league but has had none the last two years? The last time ODU boasted the conference Player of the Year was Lucienne Berthieu in 2002. While transfer have been an issue -- seven in the last four years -- that is hardly unusual in the sport. James Madison has lost five in the same period.

Recruiting, no doubt, has become the biggest issue, and we're not talking about competing against the likes of Tennessee and Connecticut. The CAA's best players the last three years have not worn blue and white. In years past, George Mason produced a Jen Derevjanik and VCU, a Kristine Austgulen. But by and large, the elite in the conference had ODU on their backs. ODU is no longer getting the best players in the league and the players that are there don't appear to buy in to this notion: It's not about you when you wear an Old Dominion uniform. It's about Lieberman and Donovan and Marianne Stanley and Ticha Penicheiro. It's about Natalie Diaz playing on bad knees, Walters splashing an improbable 3-pointer against Virginia, Shareese Grant refusing to let ODU not win another CAA championship. And yes, it's about Wendy Larry, one of the most respected coaches in the game who exceeded the 600 win mark last year.

We don't pretend to know the ins and outs of what's going on internally at ODU. We know this. For the last three years, by ODU standards, this team has unraveled at the time in the season when most teams are peaking. Chemistry has been an issue and pride an even bigger one. Five kids with good looking resumes are coming into the 2011-12 season -- players who were looking at some marquee programs and selected Old Dominion first.Also it appears leading scorer and rebounder Tia Lewis will return for a senior year, and Mairi Buchan will be healthy again to finish out her career. These Lady Monarchs will be young and given that, they will be impressionable, capable of being molded.

Larry must make these players buy in from the tip. If we are to believe athletic director Wood Selig her future depends on it. Hers and ODU's.

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