On A Mission: 2009 Season Preview

This Saturday marks the start of the 11th season for the Minnesota Lynx. With a busy offseason, the Lynx look to improve from last year and reach the playoffs for the first time since 2004.

Last season the Lynx started off hot winning the first five games of the season, but couldn't keep the momentum going forward. Minnesota finished the 2008 season with a 16-18 record, leaving the team in last place of the Western Conference for the third straight year.

Searching for improvement this year, the Lynx front office got busy just after the New Year. On January 30, 2009 the Lynx made three big trades to bring in some new players. The first trade sent forward Nicole Ohlde to the Phoenix Mercury in exchange for guard Kelly Miller and forward LaToya Pringle. The Lynx then exchanged centers by sending Vanessa Hayden-Johnson to the Los Angeles Sparks for Christi Thomas. A final trade was made to move the Lynx up the board for the 2009 WNBA Draft. Minnesota gave up Lindsey Harding, the number 20 pick of the 2009 draft, and a second-round pick in the 2010 draft to the Washington Mystics, in exchange for the ninth and 15th pick in the 2009 draft.

The offseason transactions resulted in added size, strength, speed and top picks in the first round of the WNBA Draft. With the fourth overall selection, the Lynx took point guard Renee Montgomery out of the University of Connecticut. Shortly after, the Lynx used their ninth pick, acquired from the Mystics, to select center Quanitra Hollingsworth from Virginia Commonwealth University. The 15th pick, also from the Mystics, was used to select Rashanda McCants from the University of North Carolina. Minnesota completed the 2009 with the selection of former Gophers guard Emily Fox with the 30th pick.

The extreme turnover has left only one player with more than one full season of experience on the roster with Seimone Augustus returning for her third year in the Twin Cities. In some cases it may be difficult adjusting to such a new team, but the Lynx are optimistic about the upcoming season. After the only preseason game, second year player, Charde Houston, seemed positive with the immense talent on the current roster.

"I think we're big which means we're going to be able to give people a lot of problems on the inside. Our guard play is good so when you put all of that together I think we'll have a really good team," Houston explained.

Head coach Don Zierden accepted an assistant coaching position in the NBA with the Washington Wizards, giving way for assistant coach, Jen Gillom to take over as the new head coach. Gillom was one of the original members signed to a WNBA contract and played in the very first WNBA All-Star game.

One key focus for the Lynx this season is going to be defense, specifically rebounding. The Lynx locked down tight on defense last season, averaging nine steals a game last year, third best in the WNBA. Despite the steals, Minnesota gave up 80 points per game and allowed their opponents to win the battle of the boards, 35-33. Nicky Anosike returns for her second season and will be looking for help on the glass from new comers such as Hollingsworth and Pringle.

In 2008, offense was a high point for the Lynx as they ranked second in the WNBA in scoring with 81 points per game. Augustus led the Lynx by scoring 19 points per game and Candice Wiggins captured Sixth Woman of the Year honors. In her rookie season, Wiggins added 15 points per game off the bench.

Player Breakdown
Nicky Anosike #21, Forward/Center, 6'3 - 208, Tennessee
Entering her second season in the WNBA, Anosike is coming off a remarkable rookie season. Anosike stood out on the defensive end in 2008 as the only player to finish in the top ten in rebounding, blocks, and steals per game. Anosike started all 34 games for the Lynx averaging 9.2 points, 6.8 rebounds, and 2.2 steals per game. She led the Lynx in rebounding in 19 games throughout the season and tallied five double-doubles, one shy of the team record. For her efforts on the court, Anosike was named to the WNBA All-Rookie Team with teammate Candice Wiggins.

Seimone Augustus #33, Guard, 6'0 - 168, LSU
The Lynx leading scorer from last season returns for her fourth season in the WNBA. Originally drafted as the number one overall pick by the Lynx, Augustus is the only player on the roster who has played more than one full season in Minnesota. Augustus ranked third in WNBA scoring with 19.1 points per game. It was the first time in Augustus career she averaged less than 20 points per game, however, she is still has the highest career average in points with 21.3. Augustus' season ended early after she suffered a concussion during the first quarter of the September 9th game. After leaving the game early it snapped her streak of 88 straight games of scoring double-figure points, four shy of Cynthia Cooper's record of 92 straight games.

Anna DeForge #30, Guard, 5'10 - 165, Nebraska
DeForge comes back for her second year with the Lynx and her eight year in the WNBA. Last season DeForge led the Lynx with 47 three-point field goals shooting a team best 36.4%, and became the 14th player in WNBA history to record her 300th career three-point basket. DeForge appeared in all 34 games for the Lynx averaging 8.5 points per game. DeForge currently has a streak of playing in 111 straight games missing only one game in the past six years.

Emily Fox #3, Guard, 5'9 - 157, Minnesota
Fox joins the Lynx her rookie season as the 30th overall pick in the draft. Fox had a successful career at the University of Minnesota where she averaged 12.8 points and 5.5 assists per game her senior season. Fox was given a starting position as a sophomore and would go on to start all 97 games from then on. She was awarded with an Academic All-Big Ten award along with two Second Team All-Big Ten selections and one First Team All-Big Ten selection.

Roneeka Hodges #32, Guard, 5-10 - 169, Florida State
Hodges joins the Lynx after playing four seasons for the Houston Comets. After the Comets disassembled Hodges was chosen in a dispersal draft involving the former Comets players. Hodges finished the season strong playing in 15 of the Comets' final 17 games averaging 7.3 points per game. On July 24th against Detroit Hodges recorded a season high 18 points while hitting a career high six three point field goals.

Quanitra Hollingsworth #9, Center, 6'5 - 201, Virginia Commonwealth
Hollingsworth enters her rookie season as the youngest American born player in the WNBA at 20 years old. The young Hollingsworth started her collegiate career at the age of 15 and would become one of the all-time greats at VCU. Her senior season she 14.2 points per game and 9.7 rebounds per game while leading VCU to their first ever NCAA National Championship appearance. By the end of her tenure at VCU Hollingsworth became the all-time leading rebounder with 1,114 total rebounds and second all-time in points with 1,523.

Charde Houston #24, Forward, 6'0 - 193, Connecticut
Houston is back for her second season after playing a central role off the bench last season averaging 8.8 points and 3.7 rebounds off the bench in 33 games. In Houston's debut as a rookie she scored 21 points off the bench, and led the Lynx in scoring three of the last four games of the season. During the WNBA off-season Houston played in the Israeli D1 League averaging 23.8 points and 9.8 rebounds to become the league's Most Valuable Player with Lynx teammate LaToya Pringle.

Rashanda McCants #8, Forward, 6-1 - 161, North Carolina
With the 15th pick in this year's draft the Lynx selected athletic forward, Rashanda McCants. McCants averaged 14.9 points and 6.4 rebounds her senior season as a Tar Heel. For her hard work on and off the court she was awarded a State Farm Honorable Mention All-American and was a member of the ACC All-Academic team. Her sophomore year she started in all 38 setting a school record for games played and started in a season.

Kelly Miller #2, Guard, 5'9 - 145, Georgia
The WNBA veteran, Miller, returns to her home state to join the Lynx for her ninth season in the league. Miller adds great experience to a young team with her experience in the post season, including a WNBA Championship in 2007 with the Phoenix Mercury. The Lynx acquired Miller and LaToya Pringle in a trade with Phoenix for Nicole Ohlde. Last season with the Mercury, Miller averaged 8.3 points per game while shooting 38.5% from outside while starting all 34 games. Last season Miller also surpassed the 2,000 career points here in Minnesota while playing against the Lynx.

Renee Montgomery #20, Guard, 5'7 - 139, Connecticut
Montgomery enters her rookie season with the Lynx after a flawless senior season at Connecticut where she and her Husky teammates went a perfect 39-0. During her four years at Connecticut Montgomery led the Huskies to a 138-11 overall record with two Final Four appearances. She finished her collegiate career as the only player in school history to finish top ten in points (1,977), assists (626), steals (266), and three-pointers (251). Montgomery was awarded with the Nancy Lieberman Award and was inducted into the "Huskies of Honor," the first active member to ever be inducted. Her senior year she averaged 16.5 points and 5.1 assists per game.

LaToya Pringle #15, Forward/Center, 6'3 - 171, North Carolina
Pringle begins her first season with the Lynx after being traded with Kelly Miller from the Phoenix Mercury for Nicole Ohlde. Pringle provides a hefty presence in the paint as one of the WNBA's best-shot blockers. Last season Pringle averaged WNBA fifth best 1.5 blocks per game and led the league with 4.66 blocks per 40 minutes. While playing overseas in the D1 Israeli League she averaged 16.2 points, 12.6 rebounds, and 2.2 blocks per game to be named Co-MVP with Lynx teammate Charde Houston.

Christi Thomas #4, Center, 6'4 - 206, Georgia
Looking to add more height to the Lynx line-up Thomas was acquired in a trade with the Los Angeles Sparks for Vanessa Hayden-Johnson. Thomas enters her sixth WNBA season after struggling with a knee injury late last season that limited her to 20 games in the 2008 season. In 2007 Thomas ranked in the WNBA top ten in both offensive rebounds per 40 mintues (4.1) and total rebounds per 40 minutes (11.2).

Candice Wiggins #11, Guard, 510 152, Stanford
Wiggins returns after having a terrific rookie season with the Lynx. Wiggins was the second leading scorer with the Lynx scoring 15.7 points per game, second best among rookies in the WNBA. Wiggins appeared in 30 games last season for the Lynx as an important role off the bench. Her 15.7 points per game is the highest average for any player coming off the bench. For her efforts off the bench Wiggins was awarded the Six Women of the Year to go along with being named to the WNBA All-Rookie Team with teammate Nicky Anosike.

For more news and notes on the team follow the Minnesota Lynx on Twitter.