Hoyas Look to Rising Talent to Replace Senior Departures
Oct. 31, 2019
Coming off a strong 2018-19 campaign that took it to the Big East tournament semifinals and the Women’s National Invitation Tournament quarterfinals, the Georgetown University women’s basketball team looks to build on last year’s postseason success despite the departure of three key locker room leaders. But the departure of these three women has created an opportunity for other players to rise to the challenge and lead the Hoyas into another fierce postseason run.
Head Coach James Howard completed his third season at the helm of the Hoyas last year, a role to which he ascended after working as associate head coach to former Head Coach Natasha Adair since 2014. Howard oversaw a .500 program in his first season, with big wins over Big East powerhouses. Year one, however, ultimately ended without a postseason berth.
The Hoyas built upon that foundation with a spot in the conference semifinal last year. A loss to top-seeded Marquette University on March 11 derailed their chances at an NCAA tournament bid but did not deter the momentum that propelled them to win five of their final six games before Selection Monday. The Hoyas also saw a home game against Sacred Heart University in the WNIT tournament, winning three games in the tournament before falling at James Madison University in the quarterfinals.
While the team’s late season success offers reason for optimism, the task of replacing three key players, including its two leading scorers, still looms large: guard Dionna White, who posted an average 17 points per game last year; forward Dorothy Adomako, with 16.5 average points per game; and guard Mikayla Venson, with 10.6 average points per game, all graduated from the team.
White departs with an impressive career for the Hoyas: The four-year starter finished her career at Georgetown as the program’s second-leading scorer of all time, behind current WNBA player Sugar Rodgers. She also earned the Big East Defensive Player of the Year award as a junior, as well as First Team All-Big East in her junior and senior seasons. Adomako, who led the team with nine double doubles, joined her in the All-Big East Second Team in 2015-16 as a sophomore.
Rising to the season’s greatest challenges, White and Adomako both contributed 27 point outings in the Big East tournament — White in a game against Villanova University and Adomako in a game against Marquette.
These three women also supplied the necessary veteran leadership at key junctures last season, creating a noticeable absence as the team looks to pursue another strong season and postseason campaign.
Howard acknowledged the difficulty of replacing three high-caliber players so quickly and emphasized the importance of developing younger players’ experience on the court.
“These kids don’t have the experience. We want to try to piece together a solid season,” Howard said in an interview with The Hoya. “When you lose so much power and experience — that’s the key, experience — you don’t have those expectations.”
Sophomore guard Cassandra Gordon reiterated the impact of Adomako’s and White’s departures but said their absence has led to a more communal scoring effort.
“It’s definitely going to be hard for teams to scout us because last year Dionna and Dorothy had 20-plus-point games, but now we don’t know who’s going to score because we’re all scoring together,” Gordon said in an interview with The Hoya.
Nevertheless, the departure of these three women paves the way for new players to assume their roles as leaders.
“That’s probably our biggest concern right now. We lost three double-figure scorers — they combined for almost four to five thousand points during their college career — and trying to find someone to put their feet in those shoes is going to be hard,” Howard said. “We’re going to have to do it through some upperclassmen leadership of Brianna Jones and fifth year transfer Taylor Barnes.”
Players like graduate guard Brianna Jones, who was a strong rebounder in her freshman year despite limited playing time, and senior forward Anita Kelava, who was a reliable off-ball presence offensively while playing a key role in the team’s defensive schemes, return with a veteran mindset and the potential to step up as team leaders.
Kelava was named team captain last year, having sat out the 2017-18 season after transferring from The University of Maine, per NCAA rules. She led the team in blocks last season, imparting a palpable effect on the defensive end.
In her 35 games last season, Jones’ average of four points per game put her fourth, behind White, Adomako and Venson. Like Kelava, the graduate student was forced to sit out the 2017-18 season after transferring from the University of Louisville but was granted another year of eligibility.
Junior center Breonna Mayfield also returns after appearing in 20 games, and sophomore guard Nikola Kovacikova follows up a season in which she appeared in 35 games and made eight starts.
Freshman forward Graceann Bennett and freshman guard Olivia Snyder also bring a new excitement and energy to the team, according to Jones.
“They’re some special players,” Jones said in an interview with The Hoya, before summarizing their attitude this summer.
“They’re not scared — they want to learn.” Jones said.
Transfer students Barnes — who joined the Hoyas from the University of Memphis, where she averaged eight points per game — and Jillian Archer, who transferred from the University of Southern California, also represent vital contributors to the team’s plans for the upcoming season, according to Jones.
“Jill [Archer], having that experience from USC brings a lot to the table — she’s an athletic freak, honestly, on the boards, and I think they’re going to bring a lot to the table for Georgetown,” Jones said. “Taylor [Barnes] also has a lot of experience. She’s also a fifth year from Memphis and just having her on the court — it kind of brings a calming effect. She kind of calms everybody down, and she can get a bucket whenever you want.”
The transfer players bring a new level of experience to the team, and their year on the bench allows an opportunity for even further development, according to Howard.
“I think when you bring transfers in, what you’re looking and hoping for, it gives them that year to set, wait and develop.” Howard said. “We try to find that right transfer that’s going to fit what we need — an experience factor moreso than anything — and hope that they’re ready to get us up going faster.”
Though Adomako’s and White’s departures leave a void in leadership, Howard’s teams have overcome this issue before. In 2017-18, the women’s team lost forward Cynthia Petke, who averaged 14.3 points and 10.2 rebounds per game, as well as a four-year starter in Didi Burton.
Howard was hopeful about finding new leaders to step up to the plate as Adomako, White and Venson leave, citing Jones as a potential strong leader.
“Brianna Jones. Yes, I think being her fifth year of college basketball — with that experience setting out, being here for two years and going into her third now — we’re looking for her to step up our offense and hopefully give us some scoring,” Howard said.
Overall, Jones remains optimistic about the team’s potential, particularly in finding new leaders to replace Adomako and White.
“It’s really hard to replace players like Dorothy and Dionna, as far as scoring, but I think from a leadership standpoint we’ve had some seniors step up, and especially some returners step up and let the freshmen know how things are done here,” Jones said. “We kind of had this vision in our mind about how we want to play this year. It’s hard to replace that scoring, but I think it’s going to be more of a collective group that you’re going to see this year, which we will be exciting.”