The Hunger Games

Nov. 7, 2013

By Jon Cooper
Sting Daily

Tonight: Coppin State
The Series: Georgia Tech won the schools’ only meeting, 100-42, on Jan. 15, 1992 at Alexander Memorial Coliseum.
Next Up: Western Carolina, Sunday, 2:00 p.m.

Even the most successful of coaches have a year where things just don’t go their way.

For MaChelle Joseph, 2012-13 was such a year. Her Yellow Jackets’ women’s basketball team saw its streak of 20-win seasons and NCAA Tournament appearances end at six, as Tech finished 14-16, 7-11 in the ACC.

“I think last year was a transition year,” said Joseph, who begins her 11th season on the Flats with a 193-122 record (she is 31 wins away from passing Agnus Berenato for most wins in school history), and a program-best .613 winning percentage. “We lost five seniors, we had seven freshmen come in. It was a huge transition. On top of that we played one of the top 10 schedules I the country. So it was a cumulative effect of all those things.”

But what makes a successful coach is the ability to rebound, make the necessary changes and come back even stronger.

Joseph did just that. She turned over her staff, bringing in three new assistant coaches, including former three-time captain Deja Foster (Class of 2011), and went back to the drawing board strategy-wise during the off-season.

She is ready to unveil the result this evening at McCamish Pavilion, when the Yellow Jackets take on the Coppin State Eagles from the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC). Tip-off is at 5:00 p.m., the first half of a basketball bonanza — the men open their season against Presbyterian at 7:30 p.m.

A new season has allowed Joseph to let ’12-13 go. But before she did so, her introspection allowed her to realize that there was some value in what appeared a lost season.

“Looking back on it, it was the best thing to happen to us because we’re all a lot more motivated, more hungry,” she said. “We feel like now we’re not the hunted anymore. We’re the hunter.

“We made some changes offensively and defensively in what we do and a lot of that is the result of just taking that year to step back and say, `Okay, how do we get better?'” she added. “When you’re winning as consistently as we have been, it was like if it wasn’t broke you don’t want to fix it. This past year gave us an opportunity to go and refine some things and do some things differently and I think it’s really worked out for us.”

Senior guard Ty Marshall, the team’s unquestioned leader, is 100 percent invested and is expecting a return to the success of her first two seasons.

“I think the team will be a lot better,” said Marshall, who begins the season eighth on Tech’s all-time scoring list with 1,520 points, but only 435 behind leader Kisha Ford — her career-season-low of 475 points came as a freshman. “Seeing what we went through last year, everybody has a common goal to get better and get back to what we’ve done in the past. I think everybody is fired up and ready to go.”

Joseph will count on Marshall to do more than just score.

“The most important thing for Ty this year is for her to become the leader we always knew she could be with this young team and kind of put it on her back and carry them at times,” Joseph said. “She has to get out in front and set the tone, especially with our schedule. We’re playing at Tennessee (Nov. 17). We’re playing at Georgia (Nov. 24). Those are times she’s going to have to put herself out front and lead the way for these underclassmen.”

Another key to the ’13-14 Jackets will be the play of junior guard Sydney Wallace. Primarily a sharpshooter her first two seasons, Wallace, a career .387 shooter from three in ACC play, will be getting the keys to the car, starting the season at the point.

“We’re looking at her as a scoring point guard,” said Joseph. “We know she can score. I’ve never seen anybody score points as efficiently as Sydney can do it. What we’re looking for out of her is to just become more consistent. One thing she has been in her first two years is kind of inconsistent, so if we can get some consistency out of Sydney that would really be a huge boost for our team.”

The Jackets are looking for production from their freshman class, especially from guard Kaela Davis. While Davis’ claim to fame is being the daughter of longtime NBA great Antonio Davis, the 6-2 guard promises to make a name on her own merits and her game has already gotten Coach Jo’s attention.

“The thing that I have grown to respect about Kaela’s game is that it’s consistent,” said Joseph. “I think what’s also been impressive to me and to her teammates is just how she goes about it. She’s very calm and she’s consistent. She comes in day in day out and does the same things and she does them very well. She obviously can score. She can rebound. She can defend. She’s a big guard. At 6-2 she can play multiple positions, she can handle the ball at the point, she can play the two and the three. I think she’s definitely a player we’re going to look to a lot this season.”

The team will need to come together quickly, because, as usual, Georgia Tech didn’t skimp on the non-conference schedule. But their summer trip to Europe may speed up that process.

“We had a foreign tour, which was great for our team because we’ve already played five games together this summer,” Joseph said. “It was a great opportunity for us to kind of get a feel for what we have and the different positions we have and really put things together.”

There also is solid leadership in the team’s four seniors — Marshall, redshirt senior center Shayla Bivins, point Dawnn Maye and guard/forward Frida Fogdemark — who will be counted on to set an example for the eight underclassmen.

But Joseph sees that youth, as well as the team’s height — nine players measuring at least 6-0 — as a plus.

“This is a very athletic team built for speed and size on the perimeter and inside,” said Joseph. “This may be one of our biggest teams that we had. I think what’s exciting about it is that it still is a young team. But with Ty Marshall’s leadership and the four seniors that we have, I think we have a good combination of new talent and talent that has improved. So I’m excited to see how it all comes together.”

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