Heightened expectations

__Tribe struggles early to meet their lofty season goals__

p. Nine months ago, the Tribe walked off the floor of the Bob Carpenter Center in Newark, Del., frustrated and disappointed after suffering a tough loss to Hofstra University in the quarterfinals of the CAA tournament. The defeat dropped the team to 19-12, ending their promising season on a sour note.

p. However, the squad’s angst didn’t last long — the 19 games won by the 2006-2007 Tribe were the second most in program history, marking the first time that the College has finished over .500 in back-to-back seasons in Division I play.

p. Meanwhile, the team returned four out of their five starters, relinquishing only guard Sarah Stroh to graduation, and eagerly anticipated the arrival of a strong recruiting class. Expectations for next season were high as the Tribe confidently looked forward to fall practices and the start of the 2007-2008 season.

p. The College’s two seniors, forward Kyra Kaylor and guard Devin James, were particularly motivated, observing the squad in a position that seemed improbable at best when they joined the Tribe four years ago. Their freshman season, the College posted a dismal 5-24 record. However, behind the duo — both four-year starters — the program has been revitalized and optimism is now high.

p. “It has definitely been a process, but a very enjoyable process at that,” said Kaylor. “We have overcome the tough times, and are currently working towards continuing the upward motion of this program. And being a part of that has been truly memorable.”

p. Thanks predominantly to the pair, the Tribe compiled a 13-13 record in 2005-2006, followed by their breakout 19-12 mark a year ago. Along the way the duo has racked up a variety of individual honors as well. In the season opener against Campbell, James became the 12th player in College history to reach 1,000 career points.

p. Kaylor similarly reached that mark last season and her current total of 1,111 career points puts her just seven points shy of becoming the career scoring leader at the College. Additionally, the Kaplan Arena mainstay earned CAA player of the year honors during her sophomore campaign and was first team all-CAA as a junior.

p. Despite these accolades, however, the two are far from satisfied and remain hungry for the squad’s ultimate goal.

p. “Winning a conference championship and getting a shot at post-season play would really surpass any individual honor I could ever receive,” Kaylor said.

p. In their final year in Williamsburg, Kaylor and James are intensely focused on reaching that goal.

p. “I feel like as a senior I have to bring a certain level of intensity and focus every day,” said James. “I try and do the little things right and as a unit we get better every day, which makes me want to continue to improve to help the team.”

p. Aiding that leadership is a strong supporting cast in one of the deepest Tribe squads in years. Sophomore forward Tiffany Benson is among the top defensive players in the CAA after setting the College single-season record in blocked shots during her freshman season.

p. Junior Courtney Portell will run the team from the point, providing a hot hand from beyond the arc for a team that leans heavily on the three-ball. Portell will be relieved by freshman Katy Oblinger, who brings excellent ball-handling skills off the bench, while junior forward Dani Kell will return after missing much of last season to a torn ACL.

p. With the plethora of talent assembled at William and Mary Hall and last year’s strong showing, the CAA is starting to take notice of the resurgent Tribe. The team was picked to finish third in the conference, behind Old Dominion and James Madison in the pre-season conference poll, while Kaylor was named to the pre-season first team. Yet much of the pressure to win comes from within the squad itself.

p. “When I found out that we were picked to finish as one of the top teams in the conference I felt that we deserved it,” said James. “Yet there has been no extra pressure, just an expectation that we are more than capable of fulfilling.”

p. Kaylor cited this season’s focus on building from what they had accomplished as a key difference from previous year’s teams.
“Since we lost only one starter, there is more of a focus on rebuilding instead of new learning,” said the senior.

p. Despite rampant optimism, the team has struggled to maintain a steady level of play during the current campaign. After two decisive wins at the season-opening ISES Cancer Awareness Tip-Off, the squad dropped three straight, culminating in a demoralizing 79-61 defeat at Marquette.

p. “Our biggest problem right now is rebounding and learning how to play together,” said Kaylor. “Once we find our chemistry, our season will definitely begin to change direction.”

p. The Tribe secured a narrow 63-62 win over Maine Thursday in what James described as a crucial morale builder.

p. “We are regaining our confidence, and these next couple of days of practice will give us time to work out our kinks,” she added.

p. Despite the early struggles, the team remains focused on its overall goal of winning its first-ever CAA championship and advancing to the NCAA tournament. However, the road ahead for the Tribe is not easy and the squad must work to improve and limit any stretches of inconsistency.

p. The team faces a major test tonight at Kentucky in a game that could go a long way in determining the ability of the College to compete against key rivals in hostile environments on the road, a situation the squad has struggled with in recent years. Beyond that non-conference matchup, the team will approach each game singularly, an almost necessary outlook in the competitive CAA.

p. “There are no easy games on our schedule this year, and every conference game is going to be a tough game as well,” said Kaylor.

p. The senior, however, cannot help a quick glimpse forward toward what she’s worked so hard for over four exceptional seasons.

p. “We really want postseason play this year, and it is very possible as long as we work for it.”


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