Band of sisters leaves fans yearning for more

By Andrew Nicholson,
Posted: August 16, 2006

The Mercury ended a winning season on a seven-game high and now have eight months to think about the potential they have to look forward to in the summer of 2007.

The way the women’s game is played was changed, records fell, and these professionals put their sisters ahead of themselves for a team’s success.

The 2006 Mercury team was special for the records they broke and for the fun they had on and off the court. This team will be remembered forever in the WNBA record books because they changed a lot of what was considered the standard in the league.

Nobody expected Head Coach Paul Westhead’s style to actually work except those with their offices in US Airways Center. Not only did it work as the Mercury went on to average over 87 points a night, 10 more than the previous WNBA season scoring average, it proved to be a beautiful thing to watch.

It allowed teammates to be completely selfless, knowing all too well that everyone would get their shots. It allowed fans to see what kind of skill and athleticism female athletes have. It allowed All-Star Diana Taurasi to show that she is the standard of excellence in the women’s game. She dominated offensively game after game, eventually breaking the single-season scoring record.

Midway through the season, Taurasi was asked when she would break the scoring record and after learning the number to beat was 46, she said, “Wow, that’s tough.”

It must not have been too tough, as she scored 47 and dropped eight three-point bombs from all over the court, in what was the most prolific WNBA games in its 10-year history.

Taurasi will most likely score 50 points next season, so it’s just a matter of when. And it will be possible because of the system that she plays in exploits her ridiculously good basketball talent.

A band of sisters is what this Mercury team has really turned out to be this season.

“I’ve never been on a team where everyone got along so well,” Penny Taylor said. “I’ve never seen a team where everyone puts everyone else first and their career second and just do what was needed for the team.”

Because of the friendships and the selflessness of this summer’s Mercury team, it should give the fans and the team confidence that they will be back and ready to rock ‘n’ roll next year.

Next season, the playoffs aren’t the goal – they are expected. The goal is the WNBA Championship.

With Taurasi, Taylor, Cappie Pondexter and Kelly Miller returning, as well as a healthy Kamila Vodichkova, a title run is a realistic goal.

There is no question about it, the Mercury were the best team in the Western Conference in the stretch run, ending the season with a seven-game winning streak and just out of playoff contention.

“We have a lot of heart and continue to fight,” Pondexter said. “Even though we were down and we weren’t over .500, we still stayed positive with each other and still continued to fight, so that shows you how much heart we have.”

That heart, added to the speed, drive, and determination that defines the Mercury, are reasons to believe next year will be a continuation of what has made this summer special.

“It’s a tribute to the team’s hard work all season,” Miller said. “We came together at the end to play our best. Unfortunately we lost too many games before that. But we really ended strong and it’s positive look for next season.”

Teams that have been together through thick and thin are teams that have character and know how to win a tough road game, or a close home game. This season was a perfect prelude of what is to come next year.

“We have great camaraderie and it’s really just been a fun team to be a part of,” Miller added. “We really played well together as a team and I think that showed in our games. I had a great time; it was my favorite season in the WNBA. I loved our offense and our type of playing. It suited me well.”

Miller’s sentiments were shared by everyone on the team, but Vodichkova summed it up best.

“We just kept getting better, better, and better and at the end of the season we were the best team in the league, with the seven-game winning streak,” the veteran forward/center added. “Everyone was on the same page, and everybody supported each other. We had good times and bad times, and we were one group and one body.”

A group of ladies with ability, a strong work ethic and a belief in one another is a special thing. Teams win championships and you won’t find a closer knit team in the WNBA than the team that went 7-0 in August and is ready to get it done next year.

“The WNBA has been incredible,” Rookie of the Year candidate Pondexter said. “Phoenix has been fun. It’s been a great place to play. The coaches, the players, it has just been an amazing atmosphere because everyone is just nice. You can’t really tell that this is a business. I’ve enjoyed it and I’ve had a fantastic rookie year and now I am just ready for next year.”