Ryan Grube, Staff Writer
When women’s basketball entered the start of last season, no one knew what to expect from the 2018-19 Rams.
VCU was fresh off a mere seven-win season, but the squad was picked to finish sixth in the 2018 Atlantic 10 preseason poll.
While the Rams returned key pieces from a young 2017-18 team — including five returning freshmen — expectations were tempered for the black and gold prior to last season.
Now, as VCU heads into its 2019-20 campaign, all eyes are on head coach Beth O’Boyle’s crew.
The black and gold unleashed a 17-win improvement in 2018-19, earning the resilient bunch a share of the conference regular-season title with Fordham.
Junior forward Sydnei Archie says she and the rest of the team welcome this season’s high expectations.
“I feel really good about the direction the team is headed,” Archie said. “I think we had a good end of the season last season, and I think everyone is coming in hungry and ready to go.”
Archie and company will be looking to avenge a disappointing end to their 2018 conference tournament run — a journey that ended with a loss to Fordham in the A-10 Championship game.
O’Boyle, who was named A-10 Coach of the Year last season, said while their season was historic, they would have liked one more win to get to the NCAA Tournament.
“We had a great run, got all the way to the championship game, and then unfortunately came up short against Fordham to get that bid,” O’Boyle said. “It was an exciting year, and I was really proud of our team effort.”
Archie said the team is taking cautious measures to ensure they don’t replicate last year’s A-10 tournament finish.
“We’re just focusing on making sure our conditioning is up there, so we’re not burning out towards the end of the season,” Archie said. “Just remain strong so when that tough game comes at the end of the season, we’re all going to be ready.”
Archie is one of several juniors and seniors who make up a veteran-oriented roster for VCU this year. The Rams didn’t graduate any players after last season.
O’Boyle said the veteran leadership is essential for her squad, given what they would like to accomplish this season.
“It’s great all of a sudden to have juniors and seniors, the pace and the competitiveness that you have to come into practice with,” O’Boyle said. “To accomplish anything great, we have to make sure that we’re being very consistent with that, and I think they’re really motivated to do that.”
The black and gold have been a popular pick to equal last year’s success. O’Boyle said her staff is working hard to make sure their win total carries over from last season.
“I think it’s really just a focus for us about our culture, and our players getting ready to practice really hard and intense so when we get to games, they’re easier,” O’Boyle said. “We just keep trying to put them in a position to make sure that we’re being really competitive.”
Archie says she has high hopes for the squad in 2019. The junior said she would like to see the Rams capture the A-10 title and advance to the NCAA Tournament.
As for anyone who says last season was VCU’s ceiling, Archie says the team is prepared to silence the naysayers.
“Just wait on it because this season, we’re not coming to lose,” Archie said. “We’re coming to go in and take whatever we lost last year.”
The Rams open the season at home, Nov. 5 against Appalachian State at 11 a.m.