Taking Shape

  • July 23, 2009 02:51 PM
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By Ira Green for MSNsportsNET.com
July 23, 2009

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – This offseason for the West Virginia University women’s basketball team has been all about change. New assistant coaches, new faces on the court and a fresh outlook on the 2009-10 season.

While students are on summer break, kicking back poolside or working on a tan from the summer weather, rising junior Liz Repella has been getting her tan from the bright lights at WVU’s Student Rec Center. As one of only two returning players who averaged double-digits in scoring last year, Repella understands her role will increase and anticipates the need to put in extra work in the gym and weight room.

  Junior Liz Repella is ready to become one of the Mountaineers' offensive focal points.
Photo courtesy of Allison Toffle

“The team has been working hard,” Repella said. “I feel like I am in the best shape of my life. [Associate Director for Strength and Conditioning] Andy (Kettler) has us running two days a week and lifting three days a week. He has us getting after it.”

And although she and the rest of the Mountaineer squad might not have time to relax or take a breath during training, that is one “luxury” they are hoping to look forward to next season on the court – literally.

For a good portion of the 2008-09 campaign, the Mountaineers only had six healthy players on the bench, forcing starters to find every last ounce of energy to push through a rigorous BIG EAST schedule with a bench just one person deep.

Repella likely felt the biggest impact as she not only started all 33 contests, but racked up 1,173 minutes on the hardwood, averaging nearly 36 minutes per game – the most on the roster.

“Toward the end of the season, we really felt that [fatigue],” Repella admitted. “Our legs were getting tired. We only played with six people, so a lot of us played 40 minutes a game. It’s going to be very beneficial to us if we get five or six minutes in the first half to rest.”

With WVU welcoming highly touted recruit Asya Bussie, a 6-foot-4-inch center, to its frontcourt, Mountaineer coach Mike Carey will gain some flexibility to shape this team back into a contender.

The additions permit Madina Ali, who will be a redshirt junior this season, and sophomore Natalie Burton to rest, while keeping a fresh five on the court. Even more notable is the fact that Repella will be able to return to the small forward position, where she displayed her dynamic offensive capabilities. Despite having to battle on the blocks last year quite often, Repella still connected on 66 treys – second on the team.

Maybe the biggest obstacle to overcome is replacing Ashley Powell at point guard.

"Point guard is the most important position the floor so it will have to be settled quickly,” Repella said. “Sarah (Miles) has been there for two years in our system and she can also play the two guard, so she will be probably teaching Akeema (Richards) and bringing her along. I think Akeema will be a great point guard so both of them together will be fine.”

Based on Richards’ scouting report – an aggressive athlete on the perimeter who can score and set up her teammates – she fits the mold of what Carey is looking to do with an agile group.

"Coach Carey has talked with us about pressing and how he wants to get up and down the floor,” Repella commented. “I definitely think we can do that with this group. I think we’ll have 10 players who can play and they are talented and can get up and down the floor. It’ll be exciting.”

With the season nowhere in the near future, Repella knows it’s best to become familiar with her new teammates, especially on the court, to be able to gel when the time comes. Although shoot-arounds are a great time to converse, the Mountaineers have been getting the most out of their free time by playing where ever they can.

“Playing in the summer and open gyms, you can start reading people. Once fall starts and we get back to practicing, it’s a little bit easier because you’ve played with them for a couple of months.”

Repella also has started becoming familiar with the pair of new assistant coaches, Donchez Graham and Malikah Willis. Although the pair has been here less than three months, they have already made an impact, especially on Repella.

“I definitely like the new assistants and their personalities,” Repella said excitedly. “Talking to them in the office, they watch game film on me and they give me pointers. They point out things I need to work on. For instance, Donchez told me that most people guard me with their hands down, so he told me just to shoot; so, I’m working on a quicker release.”

Heading into the season, where she will be one of the focal points of opponents’ defenses, Repella will take all the pointers she can get. It’s hard to fathom why she wouldn’t be after averaging nearly 17 points per game and reaching double-digits in scoring in every contest except three.

“In high school, I know it’s a completely different story, but I was always the target. They would try to double-team me so I was used to that. I think it will take a couple of games to get used to, but I’m up for the challenge.”

But it’s not only Repella; it’s the entire team that’s up for the challenge. What better way to display it then to settle for nothing less than every team’s dream – the NCAA Tournament.

"Definitely,” Repella said when asked if the team can make it into the field of 64. “I think that’s what we are all going to work hard for. We made goals and it’s not to go back to the WNIT. We want the NCAA Tournament.”

And even though there has been change practically from top to bottom – coaching staff down to players – it’s obvious that one thing remains the same – the drive to make a splash at the NCAA Tournament.

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