Oct. 15, 2011
By Jon Cooper
Women’s basketball head coach MaChelle Joseph won’t need to say much to give her team incentive during the upcoming season.
“Not on my watch,” will do just fine.
For Joseph’s squad, comprised of 12 returning players – five of which are seniors – will look to extend the program’s five consecutive seasons of NCAA Tournament appearances, 20-plus wins and school season-records for wins (including 24 in 2010-11) to six.
“I think this senior class kind of has a chip on its shoulder,” said Joseph at a press conference Tuesday afternoon. “They don’t want to be the class that allows us to go backwards. Every year for the last five years, we’ve set the record for the most wins in the history of our program. I think these five seniors have the goal to continue that trend and not go in the other direction.”
Joseph returns three starters, who accounted for 71.5 percent of the team’s scoring and 65.4 percent of the rebounding.
Yet, that lost 28.5 and 34.6 percent, in the persons of Alex Montgomery, a scoring machine and the ACC’s top defensive rebounder, and Deja Foster, the heart and inspirational leader of the squad, may actually draw more attention from outsiders.
Joseph understands that sentiment but also believes that overlooking this year’s squad because of it would be a mistake.
“This is, in my mind, the best team we’ve ever had top to bottom; the most talented, the most depth, the most speed, the most quickness,” she said. “We have a lot more weapons than we’ve had in the past.”
Top among those weapons is sophomore guard Tyaunna Marshall. An ACC All-Freshman and All-ACC third-teamer as a freshman, Marshall poured in 13.6 points (second only to Montgomery’s 13.9 ppg), scored in double-figures 26 times and had six games where she scored at least 20, including a heroic 23-point effort against top-ranked Connecticut, when she shot 10-of-20.
Marshall is more prepared for her second year both mentally, thanks to a year of experience, and physically, courtesy of an off-season training regimen, in which Joseph estimated she put on 10 pounds of muscle.
“Ty’s a lot more physical than she was a year ago,” said Joseph. “She can take more of a beating than she could a year ago with the physical play in the ACC. That wore her down towards the end of the season. But I think she’s more physically ready for this season and she’s really improved her perimeter shooting.
“Last year she was more of a slasher, where she would get to the rim or pull off a jump shot,” she added. “In the preseason it seems like she’s looking for her three-point shot more, and looking for a perimeter shot off of the pass instead of going to the bounce so much. That’s one of the improvements I’ve seen in her. She’s become a very vocal leader on the floor for a sophomore. I think she understands her responsibility now as a go-to player to replace Alex [Montgomery].”
As important, Marshall won’t have to shoulder the scoring burden alone. Tech has balance both inside and out and will need it.
“You don’t replace a player like Alex and the impact that she had on this program in a lot of different areas,” Joseph said. “But we have Sydney Wallace, who’s a tremendous scorer. She’s a freshman coming in who has really surprised me with her ability to create shots for herself. Then we have Frida Fogdemark, who was recruited here to be a three-point shooting specialist. She played internationally this summer with the Swedish national team (along with forward Danielle Hamilton-Carter). She led them in three-point field goals and three-point field goal percentage. And then Me-Me Walthour, and Tjasa Gortnar is a 6-2 post player, who is a great three-point shooter. So we’ve added some other weapons. There won’t be one person replacing Alex, you just don’t do that. She is going to be replaced by committee.”
That committee will include the most upperclassmen Joseph has ever had on a team and features Walthour, who was in the top 10 in the ACC in assists (3.8 apg), steals (2.3 spg) and assists-to-turnover ratio (plus-1.7), center Sasha Goodlett, who had career-bests in scoring (9.9 ppg), rebounding (5.8 rpg) and field goal percentage (.474), and veterans guard Mo Bennett, center LaQuananisha Adams and forward Chelsea Regins.
“She’s a tremendous competitor and our highest energy kid,” said Joseph of Regins. “I really think she has to opportunity to do some special things this year. Where we’re lacking is perimeter rebounding, and that’s always been a strength of our teams at Georgia Tech. We’re not as big as we were on the perimeter last year with Deja and Alex, but we’re quicker and we have better one-on-one scorers. I honestly think that what we’re giving up in size we’re gaining in speed, quickness, and scoring.”
Some of that will be in their incoming class, which was ranked No. 21 in the nation and third in the ACC by ESPN HoopGurlz, and features Wallace, from Johns Creek, Ga., Gortnar, from Kranj, Slovenia, and guard Sarah Hartwell, from Tacoma, Washington, coincidentally Montgomery’s hometown.
Joseph is excited for the Jackets to start the season, which begins with games on Friday, Nov. 11 against Alabama State, then Sunday, the 13th against Old Dominion (a rematch from last year), at their new – albeit temporary – home, the Arena at Gwinnett. Tech will play 12 of its 13 games there this season (their home finale, against Clemson on Feb. 26) will be at the Forbes Arena on the Morehouse College campus.
“We’re excited about getting to go to Gwinnett,” she said. “We feel like there are a lot of women’s basketball fans there. Girl’s high school basketball is very strong in that area. Our thought process is that we’re going to go out there and gain some new fans and bring them back here the following year. Fortunately, we have five seniors, so if I had to do it with one group, then I’m glad that it’s this group that I’m doing it with.”