Yellow Jackets hope to build on last year's "season of firsts."
By Charlene Curtis for theACC.com
Georgia Tech is still buzzing about the 2006-07 season. For the first time in school history, the Yellow Jackets had a winning record in the ACC (9-5) and advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament. In addition, the 21 wins was the first time since the 1977-78 season that a Georgia Tech team won more than 20 games.
"It was just a tremendous ride," said Georgia Tech head coach MaChelle Joseph. "We feel like we've been on an amazing journey with this program. My rising seniors this year were our first recruiting class when we took the job at Georgia Tech four years ago. And they've obviously grown with this program and were an instrumental part in the success that we had last season. And the fact that we're adding a top 10 recruiting class this year … has caused us to have a tremendous amount of excitement."
The seniors are returning starters; Janie Mitchell (6-1, F) and Chioma Nnamaka (6-0, G), and key reserves, Jill Ingram (5-9, G) and Daphne Mitchell (6-3, F). Janie Mitchell and Nnamaka were the team's second- and third-leading scorers last season, averaging 14.5 and 13.0 points per game, respectively. The versatile Janie Mitchell is a difficult match-up for opposing post players, because she can effectively face up to score or use her quickness and strength to score with her back to the basket. She was the team's best rebounder, pulling down 6.9 rebounds per game. Nnamaka is also a difficult player to defend. She can shoot the 3-pointer (making 81 last season), and she can score effectively off the dribble. Ingram gives the Jackets quality depth at the point position, and Daphne Mitchell gives the Jackets a tall, imposing presence in the paint.
Missing from last year's "season of firsts" is leading scorer Stephanie Higgs. Higgs brought a level of intensity and competitiveness to the Yellow Jackets that will be missed. "I fed off her energy, and I learned a lot from her over the years," said Janie Mitchell when speaking about Higgs' career and her impact on the Georgia Tech program. According to Janie, it'll take a team effort to replace what Higgs brought to the team over the last four years.
The starting point guard responsibilities may fall into the hands of junior Jacqua Williams. Williams shared the ball handling responsibilities with Higgs and Ingram last season. Williams and Higgs, both starters, were usually on the floor together and shared the responsibility of getting the team into its offensive sets. Williams, a two-time ACC track champion as a member of the 4x100m relay team, has become one of the ACC's best defenders. "She became our defensive catalyst," said Joseph.
"There are a lot of players who can change the game on the offensive end. There're very few that can change the game on the defensive end. And she can single-handedly change the game on the defensive end. And not only do I think we have two of the most talented offensive players in the league in Janie (Mitchell) and Chioma (Nnamaka), I think Jacqua Williams is probably the single most talented defensive player."
The fourth returning starter is sophomore Brigitte Ardossi (6-2, F). After starting 26 games in the post as a freshman, Ardossi will be challenged for that starting position by two of the six very talented freshmen. "The freshmen are going to have a tremendous impact - particularly Alex Montgomery," said Joseph. "She's 6-1, and she can play the point guard through four. We will take full advantage of those skills that she has on the offensive end."
"Iasia Hemingway (freshman) is probably going to be the most undersized post player in the ACC. But I don't know that there is any post player in the ACC that I would take over her today. She's 5-9, but she can score over anybody 6-5. She's truly the strongest female I have ever been around. She can play with her back to the basket. She's going to get to the free throw line a tremendous amount of times, because she understands how to position herself. The fact that she's going to get to play alongside Janie Mitchell who's going to draw a lot of attention on the defensive end is just going to make us just that more difficult to defend."
The Yellow Jackets are indeed excited about the 2007-08 season. After last year's sixth-place regular season finish in the ACC, Georgia Tech is setting its sights on a top four finish this season. "There's no doubt that we've approach this season with the goal in mind that we want to finish in the top four in the conference," Joseph said. "We feel like it is time for us to make that move."
To improve on their regular season finish in the ACC and to better position themselves to advance even further in the NCAA Tournament, the Yellow Jackets must become a better offensive team. They scored just 66.1 points per game and made just 39.9 percent of their field goal attempts last season.
Joseph and her Yellow Jackets recognize their weaknesses. "We built the program on defense and rebounding," said Joseph. "We've always been very competitive on the defensive end and on the boards. But for us to go to that next level, to crack into the top three or four finishers in the ACC, we've got to become a more offensive team. We've got to score more points. And that's the bottom line. We score more points and we establish an inside game, then we're going to be hard to beat."
The strategic plan has been written, and Georgia Tech is following its script. This is perhaps the most talented Georgia Tech team to have ever been assembled. If it all comes together, the Yellow Jackets will be talking about another "season of firsts" at the end of this season.