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Former Storm Players Square Off on Sidelines

Kevin Pelton, StormBasketball.com | Nov. 13, 2012

When the Seattle University women host their counterparts from the University of Washington on Wednesday in the annual meeting of crosstown rivals, a pair of former Seattle Storm players will be returning to KeyArena as coaches. Kristen O'Neill, who played for the Storm in 2008, is now in her fourth year as an assistant to Joan Bonvicini at Seattle U. Storm color analyst Adia Barnes, who played for the team from 2002-04 and was a part of the 2004 championship team, is in her second year as part of Kevin McGuff's staff at Washington.

Both Barnes and O'Neill are looking forward to Wednesday's matchup, the fourth between the teams in the last five seasons as the Redhawks have made the transition to Division I.

Kristen O'Neill with Joan Bonvicini.
Photo via jlindstr.smugmug.com

Former Storm player Kristen O'Neill (left) is in her fourth year as an assistant to Joan Bonvicini at Seattle U.

"I think it's great," said Barnes. "It's exciting. I think it's just a way to get fans excited about both of programs. We have good relationships with Seattle U. It's just exciting for women's basketball. Whether you're a fan or a graduate of UW or Seattle U, come out and support women's basketball in the city."

"I have a ton of Seattle pride," added O'Neill. "It's just a great basketball community. I think it's great to have healty a rivalry, to have two Division I teams in Seattle able to play each other. We have such a strong basketball community, so I think it's something fun for the city to get behind."

Besides their mutual ties to the Storm, Barnes and O'Neill each have unique connections to the other program. Barnes played for Bonvicini, who will be coaching her 1,000th career game on Wednesday, at the Univeristy of Arizona. O'Neill, a native of Edmonds, played her college ball at UW. So too did her sister Kellie. As a result, when the two teams get together, there are some divided loyalties - though not for the coaches themselves.

"So many people ask me who I'll be rooting for, and I don't understand that question," O'Neill said. "I love UW, I bleed purple and gold, but when we play them I want to beat them! It's a lot of fun, though. I have so many wonderful memories from UW and I'm looking forward to the game and seeing all the UW fans and boosters and everybody. It's really fun to be back."

While O'Neill accepts that a lot of her former teammates and friends will be pulling for the Huskies, Barnes is doing what she can to ensure support.

"People are coming to the game," she joked, "and I'm asking them, 'What are you wearing? You better not be wearing red!'"

So far, Washington has won all three editions of the in-city matchup since Seattle U began the transition back to D-I. Last year, the Huskies overpowered the Redhawks in the paint in a 72-53 win at Alaska Airlines Arena. This matchup figures to be different because Washington graduated post players Regina Rogers, Mackenzie Argens and Mollie Williams, leaving the team undersized in the frontcourt. Both Washington and Seattle U expect to play up-tempo attacks this season.

"While inside we lost players, we gained a star outside in Kristi Kingma," explained Barnes. "She's back from her knee injury. Wer'e definitely going to shoot the three-ball very well. A lot of penetration and kick, aggressive defense. I think it's going to be a very fun style to watch."

Point guard Jazmine Davis, last year's Pac-12 Freshman of the Year, had the game-winning layup on Friday as the Huskies beat St. Mary's 70-68 in their season opener. The Redhawks dropped an even closer matchup with Pacific, 71-70, on Friday night in their first game. This is an important year for Seattle U, which moves into the WAC and will be eligible for the NCAA tournament for the first time after reaching the semifinals of last year's WBI.

"We're excited to be in a conference," O'Neill said. "It's great for Seattle U. We had a great season last year. We've worked so hard the past three years to really change the culture here and build a new standard. The success we had last year was wonderful and we want to build on that even more."

Over the summer, O'Neill was promoted to the newly created role of associate head coach. Now in her fourth year on the sidelines, O'Neill can look back on the progress she's made in her first coaching job, which she took just a year after playing for the Storm.

"It's been such a great experience - especially somewhere like Seattle U, where we've been been building this from what felt like the ground up," she said. "It's been a very grassroots thing. In that, there is a ton of responsibility and a lot of opportunity. I think my first year, I felt like I was drinking from a firehose with everything that was coming at me. Four years later, I feel like I have a better handle on things and have really enjoyed learning and growing as a coach and a person every day. Joan laughs about it all the time, how things were when we first started. It feels good to see what we've built and how we've progressed."

O'Neill gives a lot of credit to the year she spent playing for Storm Head Coach Brian Agler.

"I really enjoyed playing for him," she said. "I respect the way he sees the game; I think he's a basketball genius. The way he coaches, the way he teaches is one that I just absolutely loved learning from and playing for. I've had some wonderful coaches throughout my career. I really enjoyed him and respected him. The way he teaches has made me a better teacher."

As she begins her second season as an assistant coach, Barnes is still making the transition from player to coach and from her experience in the professional game to the college ranks with McGuff's help.

"In the first year, I had the Storm language," said Barnes. "I've had professional teams' language for the last 10 years, so learning his style, what he wants, what he emphasizes, it's a lot easier this year because I know that and I understand that. I'm learning a lot. Every day I'm learning something. I still have to get a lot better."

Now, Barnes is headed back to the same court where she won a WNBA championship with the Storm in 2004. Wednesday's game will be played at KeyArena, which has served as a second home court for Seattle U along with the smaller Connolly Center on campus.

"I know that arena inside and out," Barnes said. "It's just going to be weird being there on the sidelines as a coach. It's exciting. KeyArena feels like home to me after all the years I've spent there - it's almost a decade going to the arena."

O'Neill is hoping to see many of the Storm fans that once supported her and Barnes in the WNBA turn out for this showcase of women's college basketball in Seattle.

"Anyone who has gone to Storm games can definitely see the support we have from our awesome community here," she said. "As we build this rivalry and have two strong Division I programs playing each other, I think it's such a great opportunity for fans and the awesome basketball community to come together, see one another and support women playing basketball in Seattle. We've got a great thing going on here and it's wonderful to have people behind that to support it."

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