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Washington Mystics are putting the new pieces together

By Mark Giannotto,

Last Thursday, Washington Mystics General Manager and Coach Trudi Lacey did something different with her team. She took the entire roster out to the Potomac River for some Navy SEALs training, where players and coaches alike were subjected to “a lot of running, a lot of push-ups and a lot of carrying boats in the water, out of the water.”

Aside from the cardiovascular benefits of such exercise, it was meant to be a change of pace from the rigors of training camp. But with a roster that looks significantly different from a year ago, it also proved beneficial for Lacey in unexpected ways.

“It was a great tool and a great teacher for me to understand them better, and also I wanted to build some team chemistry,” Lacey said Tuesday. “Taking them out of their comfort zone and have them lead in some very difficult situations will help us come together as a team.”

The Mystics’ roster overhaul, and how all the new pieces will jell, following last year’s 6-28 season was the defining theme as the franchise kicked off its 15th season with its annual media day.

Washington returns just five players from a season ago, and there are only three stalwarts — all star Crystal Langhorne, guard Matee Ajavon and Washington native Monique Currie — from the 2010 team that finished with the best regular season record in the Eastern Conference.

“Trudi kept me in the loop and I knew some changes were going to happen,” said Langhorne, who spent the offseason playing overseas in Moscow. “You can’t have a season like we did last year and expect the same team back.”

At the core of Lacey’s roster renovation is a bigger emphasis on veteran role players to help the Mystics get over the hump. By the coach’s count, there were 15 games last season in which Washington had a chance to win in the final two minutes only to come up short.

During the offseason, she acquired experienced players like guard Dominique Canty and shot-blocking centers Michelle Snow and Ashley Robinson, veterans that Lacey believes “could make plays at the end of games and turn those close losses into wins.”

The Mystics will also have key players like Currie, who is back from an ACL injury that sidelined her for most of last season, and Langhorne in the fold. Guards Jasmine Thomas (Oakton High) and Ajavon, meanwhile, both developed significantly with increased playing time a year ago.

Thomas said Tuesday the overhauled roster was necessary, because the team’s abundance of youth meant “when things went wrong, we let them get worse.” But those struggles haven’t dampened the enthusiasm of the newcomers.

“You can either have a pessimistic view or you can have an optimistic view,” Snow said. “I see it as an opportunity.”

Several players explained Tuesday that the difference in experience this season is already apparent in training camp. Langhorne said the team is picking up Lacey’s sets quicker than a year ago and the coach doesn’t have to give the same set of directions twice anymore.

For her part, Lacey sees a roster where there will be competition for every spot in the lineup. But she’s also confident that all these new pieces will produce something better than the end result a year ago.

“I think we have the talent, the experience, that every night we should expect to win,” Lacey said. “The past is the past and we’ve learned from it and now we’re ready to move forward.”

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