From the moment she has stepped foot onto George Washington’s campus, women’s basketball coach Caroline McCombs has had a simple message. Pound the stone.
But what exactly does that mean?
“That is something our team has really taken on from the second it was introduced,” senior guard Maddie Loder offered. ” Pound the stone is something we’ve really embodied, and that kind of means putting your work in every single day. It’s doing the hard work when people aren’t watching and when people are watching. The work you put in is going to benefit you in the long run, even if you don’t see the outcome every day.”
McCombs comes to GW from Stony Brook, where she held the head job for seven years, most recently leading the Sea Wolves to their first NCAA Tournament appearance.
In order to achieve success, McCombs has had her team buy into the defensive end, where Stony Brooks consistently was a top-50 team in the NCAA.
“We want that to be our identity,” said McCombs. “It’s something our teams have always believed in and taken pride in. Are we going to work on our offensive skills? Absolutely, but at the same time we all can play defense and buy into a system and we have to focus on that. Whatever you want to be good at, you have to emphasize that.”
George Washington was voted 12th in the Atlantic 10 Preseason Poll, though really McCombs has been focused on far more than a meaningless number.
These past six months have been about building relationships, laying the foundation and creating a culture. It has been investing in these processes, which McCombs admits takes a lot of time, but that anything worthwhile is worth the commitment.
GW returns six players to this year’s team led by Loder (4.8 ppg/18 starts) and redshirt junior forward Mayowa Taiwo (6.1 ppg/43.7% FG).
McCombs credited Loder for her desire to get in the gym in order to take more shots. It is desired that she can play both freely and with confidence, so that she can stick to her strengths. This, McCombs believes is “really important”.
Taiwo has battled her share of injuries, but the goal is to build off a strong conclusion to the season, achieving a double-double consisting of a career-high 19 points, on 7-of-10 shooting and 11 rebounds. She also scored 17 points the day prior against George Mason.
“She’s terrific out on the court, her poise and composure is fantastic,” McCombs said. “She is a person of quiet nature, but her play speaks volumes.”
Establishing a relationship on and off the court was crucial for McCombs. That started in April when it was just them and understanding what to expect. McCombs said that the foundation is being built around this sextet.
This year, the Colonials welcome 10 newcomers, which will have varying degrees of involvement on the court.
Graduate student guard Ty Moore is someone McCombs expects to make an immediate impact. A DC native, Moore most recently played for Troy, which last season made the NCAA Tournament. Her abilities provide for consistent double-double potential. She can make shots offensively, while also being disruptive on the defensive end.
Sheslanie Laureano and Nya Lok both are big wings who have multiple facets to their offense, in that they can shoot the three, but also take the ball off the bounce.
At the point guard position, Kyara Frames and Sierra Bell, both are graduate students, can handle the ball, and have proven that they can run a team. Now it is learning a new system and seeing how that translates on the court.
McCombs also singled out Taylor Webster, a sophomore who transferred in from UNC Wilmington. Webster’s start to this process was particularly praised and her versatility and conditioning could give her an advantage. Though the team’s website has her listed as a guard, Webster will play forward and can play both inside and out.
This process will not always be easy and McCombs admitted as much, though when she thinks of patience, she reflects on a non-conference slate in which four of the team’s first nine games are against Power Five Teams.
“For us what does success look like,” asked McCombs. “We’re not just going to look at the outcomes, but how we’re going to get better every day. We’re going to have some tough games, and I’m well aware of that as we’re just trying to figure each other out too. I talk about those games, but every game in between is a very good opponent. That’s something I’m really looking forward to because we don’t really have a day off. Practices are going to have to be lighter to play in those games.”
Though there may not be much for McCombs to walk the National Mall this season or grab a bite at Old Ebbitt Grill as she is constantly working to make her vision of this team a reality.
Regardless, McCombs allowed her to smile as she believes this journey GW is on will be worth it.
“When I’m waking up, early in the morning on some days, I’m telling myself that I get to coach this team today,” she said. “I’m grateful for everything that’s to come, and that has come before. I look at those banners, and I know the expectation is great and all things are possible, because they’ve been done here before. This is a really special place and I am extremely excited about this opportunity.”