By: Cassie Calvert
The Mystics wrapped up an exciting preseason with a 2-1 record, including two dominant twenty-plus point wins over the Atlanta Dream and Minnesota Lynx. The team shot 48% over the three games, while dishing out 52 assists on 84 made baskets. They now look to bring their fast-paced attack into the regular season as they head into Friday’s opener at Connecticut (7p.m.).
Tayler Hill and Emma Meesseman lead the ‘Stics in the preseason, averaging 11.7 and 11.3 points per game respectively. Meesseman shot a remarkable 76% from the floor, including an 8 for 8 performance in Washington’s loss to the Fever on Friday. Hill’s 18 points in the May 27th win versus the Lynx demonstrated she was back at peak performance after having given birth last year.
“I’m getting back used to American basketball…. I felt comfortable,” Meesseman said. “In several moments of the game [at Indiana], we just played really good basketball, that helped.”
A new face on this season’s roster that looked ready to contribute right away was Natasha Cloud, a rookie from St. Joseph’s. Cloud was selected 15th overall (second round) by the Mystics in this year’s draft. Cloud made an immediate impact in the preseason, averaging 10.7 points, 3.3 assists and 3.0 rebounds per game.
“Emma Meesseman and Natasha Cloud have had exceptional training camps,” Coach Mike Thibault said. “Natasha, for a rookie, has acted like a veteran from day one…. They have stood out to me as exceptional.”
The other rookie addition to the Washington squad (via the draft) was Ally Malott, a forward from the University of Dayton. Sidelined early with a concussion, Malott averaged 6.5 points and 2.5 rebounds in the two preseason games she participated in.
“[Ally]’s bounced back the last five or six days and had really good practices, so I feel like [the rookies] are going to be big contributors” Thibault said.
The Mystics look to improve on last year’s performance that culminated in a playoff loss to the Indiana Fever. The ‘Stics finished the year shooting 43% from the field and averaging 35.4 rebounds per game, second in the league.
“I think it’s exciting to see how much we’ve progressed since last year,” Thibault said. “It’s nice that we had a starting point to build on, being a playoff team two years in a row—now, we have another step to take.”
Friday’s matchup will be a homecoming of sorts for guard Bria Hartley and center Stefanie Dolson, as both had successful college careers playing for the University of Connecticut. Hartley and Dolson will reunite with another former teammate, Sun guard Kelly Faris, also a member of the 2013 National Championship squad. Rookies last season, Hartley and Dolson both made significant impacts, contributing 9.7 and 6.0 points per game. The Mystics will look for the two former Huskies to fill increased roles this season.
“For me, I’m pretty confident in my basketball IQ, what I know about the game, it’s something I learned over the four years I played at UConn,” Dolson said. “So I can take a leadership role quicker than most.”
Although the Mystics faced the Sun five times last season, going 4-1, the Connecticut team they will face Friday night will be quite different than the 2014 team. Connecticut’s depth was dealt repeated blows with the loss of Chiney Ogwumike, Allison Hightower and Kelsey Griffin to surgeries and the retirement of veteran Katie Douglas. Ogwumike was the number one pick in the WNBA Draft and the Rookie of the Year in 2014. The former Stanford forward is out indefinitely after knee surgery and the Sun will anxiously await her return. The Sun announced on Tuesday that Hightower has been suspended and Griffin has been waived.
To supplement the diminished roster, Connecticut traded for Camille Little and Shekinna Stricklen, veterans from Seattle, and picked Elizabeth Williams from Duke University fourth in the 2015 draft. Guard Alex Bentley and forward Alyssa Thomas have lead the Sun in the preseason, averaging 16.0 and 12.3 points per game.
Thibault is no stranger to Connecticut either, having coached the Sun to eight playoff appearances and two WNBA Finals in his ten seasons as head coach. Since taking the helm of the Mystics in 2013, Thibault has led Washington to a 7-2 record against his former team.
The Mystics will face the Sun three more times in the regular season. Two such match ups will occur at Verizon Center, where Washington is 4-0 against Connecticut under Thibault’s leadership. Following Friday’s game, the ‘Stics will host the home regular season opener at Verizon Center, Saturday at 7 p.m. versus the New York Liberty.