Ryan Grube, Staff Writer
The months that made up the 2017-18 season were tough times for women’s basketball.
The black and gold concluded that year with a mere seven wins and headed into the offseason with a lot of unanswered questions surrounding their young squad.
The direction of the team was unknown, as the Rams — then a roster of eight freshmen and four sophomores — were a unit without an identity.
“I think we started off really young, really inexperienced, all not knowing each other,” senior center Danielle Hammond said. “The more games we played and the more experience we got, the more comfortable we got with each other.”
As it turns out, the struggles the Rams dealt with over the course of their seven-win campaign would be the start of a transition into untapped success for the near future.
“Obviously, it was rough, only winning seven games,” said senior guard Nyra Williams of her sophomore season. “But toward the end of that season, we really started to get a groove. So we took that into my junior year, and we just kept taking that momentum into this last year.”
“We all know what we need to do to win, and we’ve all just bought in. We don’t really have any young players any more, so we’ve all just grown up.” — Senior guard Nyra Williams
That groove down the stretch of the 2017-18 season led to a 17-win improvement for the black and gold a year ago — the best in the NCAA. VCU captured a share of last season’s Atlantic-10 regular season title and advanced to the conference championship, falling to Fordham.
The Rams, led by their maturing roster and revamped defense, earned an automatic bid to the Women’s National Invitation Tournament, and the team was selected as the A-10 preseason favorites heading into the season. Williams said the drastic turnaround was a testament to her teammates getting onboard with the task at hand — simply, to win.
“We all know what we need to do to win, and we’ve all just bought in,” Williams said. “We don’t really have any young players any more, so we’ve all just grown up.”
The injury bug struck VCU at the beginning of this season, as junior guards Taya Robinson and Olga Petrova each missed the first four and five games on the Rams’ calendar, respectively.
Coach Beth O’Boyle and company limped out to a 5-8 start in the non-conference portion of their schedule. But a healthy, veteran-oriented black and gold squad found a new gear to kickstart the new year.
The Rams have rallied off seven consecutive victories, including their most recent revenge win over Fordham on Jan. 29, to sprint into the second half of conference play.
Tera Reed said the success comes with knowing one another’s strengths and when to get the ball to certain players in various game scenarios. The junior guard also mentioned that the team’s maturity adds a different element to their play style.
“It’s really valuable because I think we’ve experienced so many different situations that we wouldn’t have known what to do before [this year],” Reed said. “Since we had a target on our back this season, it’s really important for us to think and be smart with our decisions.”
The 2019-20 campaign has seen VCU enjoy the luxury of several proven scorers in its box scores. The Rams have five players averaging over 6.5 points per game — four are upperclassmen.
The veteran scoring, combined with its stifling defense — 57.6 points allowed, fourth in A-10 — has VCU clicking on all cylinders. Williams said the focus for the remainder of the conference schedule is centered around the black and gold staying disciplined and sticking to their craft.
“When we go into a game, just know that we gotta be on our scout, and we gotta be on our plays,” Williams said. “If we keep doing that, we’ll win.”