Winning nine more games than the previous season was little solace for Washington Mystics Coach Nancy Darsch, who expected her team to post a winning record and advance to the playoffs.
However, Darsch was not with the Mystics last season, when, as an expansion team, Washington won just three of 30 games. Center Murriel Page and guard Nikki McCray endured that brutal trek and said even though the Mystics failed to meet some of their goals this season, finishing 12-20 was a whole lot better than losing nine of every 10 games.
"I'm never satisfied," Page said after Washington's season-ending loss to Minnesota on Saturday night. "I can find all the negatives and say that we should have done this or we could have done that.
"At the same time, I know how it feels to win only three games. We made a big turnaround this year. I'm not satisfied, but I'm happy because we had a better season."
McCray, who led the Mystics in scoring again this season, averaging nearly 18 points, benefited from the addition of rookie forward Chamique Holdsclaw, who averaged 16.9 points and 7.9 rebounds, third best in the league.
"I think we're going to improve," McCray said. "We're still young. This year we were competitive, very competitive. I couldn't say that about last year. We were not close to being competitive."
Even with two players among the league's top-10 scorers, Washington had the second-worst record in the league, finishing behind Orlando and Minnesota, both expansion teams. The Mystics started the season 1-7 and failed to defend their home court, losing 10 of 16 games at MCI Center. Washington was just one of three teams in the league to post a losing record at home.
As much as those failures played a role in the team's misfortunes, the Mystics made a late-season run at the playoffs by winning six consecutive games in August. The franchise-best streak moved them within a hair of the third and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, but an 81-54 loss to Orlando on Aug. 15 eliminated them from postseason contention.
"I think for a short amount of time, we had an attitude, we had confidence, we were playing aggressively," Darsch said. "We were playing hard, we were playing defense, we were keeping scores in the sixties and really, with having just two people consistently in the double figures, we needed games to be in the sixties. When we didn't play aggressively or didn't play on defense, it was a whole different story."
Added McCray: "When you look at the makeup of this team, everybody expected us to be over 50 percent. Whatever reason, maybe because we're a young team, we had mental lapses, especially early on, when we were in some ballgames and lost. That six-game run, we recognized our mistakes and we were doing everything right.
"Things like that happen with young teams. You have that inconsistency. With this year under our belts hopefully next year we can open up our system more and allow everybody to play to their strengths."
McCray and Holdsclaw were voted starters in the WNBA's inaugural all-star game by fan balloting. The high-scoring tandem also was named to the U.S. national team. Page led the league with a 58 percent shooting percentage, earning her a $10,000 bonus.
"We certainly have seen some exciting things and some exciting moments," Darsch said.
The horrible start and the lack of success at home were proof that this team needs more leadership and experience, among other things, Darsch said. Another year together would help, she said. However the Mystics, like the league's other 11 teams, will lose some of their players because the league is adding four expansion teams next season.
Every existing team will have to make a yet-to-be-determined number of players available for an expansion draft. That will hurt the Mystics, Darsch said, because nearly every player on the roster played a beneficial role.
"I would think our roster is deep enough now that we would suffer a loss or two in the expansion draft," Darsch said.
The Mystics need a big low-post player with strong offensive and defensive skills, Darsch said. Page has done well on the low block, Darsch added, but has had trouble matching up with some of the league's bigger, more physical centers.
"We need a dominant post player with size, somebody that can attract a double team," Darsch said. "I think Heather Owen gives us a nice banger in there, but I still would like to go even bigger. I would like somebody 6-foot-6 and solid and somebody that has the inside-outside game. I don't know if that is out there somewhere, but I think that's what we need."
Acquiring such a player won't be easy, Darsch said. Most teams will protect their low-post players in the expansion draft and there aren't many skilled centers coming out of college or playing overseas, Darsch said. The Mystics also could use another perimeter shooter to complement McCray, the coach added.
Other than that, though, Washington only will get better with more seasoning and dedication, Holdsclaw said.
"Hopefully everybody is going to work hard [in the offseason]," Holdsclaw said. "As I reflect, hopefully everybody does all the right things so we can do better next season."