Langhorne Making Mystics Contenders in the East

The toughest stretch of the season is ahead for the Washington Mystics. Ten games. Eight against Eastern Conference opponents. Their ultimate success could be determined by how these next three weeks pan out.

�I still think we�re going to be headed in the right direction,� Mystics center Crystal Langhorne said.

How well Langhorne�s navigational skills are depends on her ability to excel. Thus far, the 23-year-old has stood out as the Mystics� top player this campaign. Langhorne is among the league�s Top 10 in points (16.8, 8th), rebounds (9.7, 5th) and minutes (34.6, 2nd). She also ranks behind four of the league�s biggest stars -- Tina Charles, Erika de Souza, Sancho Lyttle and Sylvia Fowles -- for double-doubles (8).

�She�s our go-to player,� Mystics head coach Julie Plank said. �Sometimes I think she just gets beat up in there, but she'll just do whatever it takes to win.�

There was uncertainty heading into the season for Washington after four-time All-Star Alana Beard went down with an ankle injury. How would they survive in the East without their superstar? The easy answer was that someone had to step up. That individual became Langhorne.

�She's the first one in the gym, the last one to leave. She's totally unselfish,� Plank said. �She gives our team a lot; a lot of confidence.�

For the week that ran June 21 to June 27, Langhorne was recognized as the WNBA�s Eastern Conference Player of the Week. This was the first such honor for Langhorne, who paced the Mystics to a 2-1 record on 27.7 ppg during that span. Statistics like that also helped her earn her first trip to the Stars at the Sun game.

�I think her awards, accolades are well deserved,� Plank said. �I was happy to see her get an All-Star team, and I think she's a legitimate MVP caliber candidate."

The truth is: It isn�t surprising to see Langhorne producing so well. Last season, when she was named the league�s Most Improved Player, she dropped 12 points and grabbed nearly eight rebounds a night in the nation�s capital. Plank rewarded her for those numbers by naming the Maryland product the Mystics' starting center for the 2010 season.

Putting Langhorne on the floor nightly with Katie Smith, Lindsey Harding and Monique Currie has worked well. Washington�s 13-7 record positions them atop the East, tied with the Indiana Fever and a half game ahead of the Atlanta Dream. The organization has never won more than 18 games, a total they're on pace to surpass, especially if they can get through these next 10 games. Four of those are against the Fever and Dream. The other six come against the Connecticut Sun and New York Liberty, a team which is in last place, but only 3.5 games out of the top spot.

�The East is playing really well. It�s usually the West that is doing that,� Langhorne said. �From top to bottom, everyone is playing really well. It�s great competition.�

The toughest part of the upcoming contests, especially for Langhorne, may be inside the paint.

�We�re going to have to rebound against them,� Lanhorne said. �Chicago has Sylvia. Connecticut has Tina Charles. Atlanta has de Souza and Sancho. When you�re playing against teams like that you have to rebound. You have to defend against them.�

Washington�s success depends on Langhorne�s ability to stop and score against those individual opponents. It�s a tall order, but the reward could put them one immense step closer to the ultimate goal: a WNBA championship.