The last time we saw the Duke women’s basketball team, they were exiting the floor at the Times Union Center after a hard fought Sweet 16 battle with the top-overall seed Connecticut. But, perhaps their two brightest stars from the past two seasons, Lexie Brown and Rebecca Greenwell—the “Splash Sisters”—have graduated, leaving the remaining pieces to find a new identity for themselves.
The Blue Devils will ride into the 2018-19 campaign without a tandem that accounted for more than 45 percent of their points last year. No one on campus is underestimating their impact on the court, but are only looking ahead to find success with this year’s team.
“Well it’s obvious, they score a lot of points,” head coach Joanne P. McCallie said. “They do so many good things. You don’t worry about that at this point. We’re in a new season. We’ve got an evolving team. We don’t replace good players, they were absolutely terrific, we just just move forward.”
Another invaluable attribute that the Splash Sisters brought to the team was leadership. Greenwell started all but three games in her Duke career, and Brown started every game in the two years she spent at Duke, after transferring from Maryland. Luckily for McCallie, she has many upperclassmen that are more than capable of leading.
“Just making sure everyone understands our standards,” senior Faith Suggs said. “Which is rebounding, defending, being a good teammate, playing hard all the time. Those are the kind of things we get right now, the things that we can control.”
Suggs and center Sofia Roma are the only two seniors on this year’s squad, and definitely understand that they will have to step up and lead a team that has many players stepping into a new role this season.
Although Brown and Greenwell took on dominant scoring roles, the Blue Devils know that no one is expected to step up immediately and fill their shoes as alpha scorers, and that the offense can run through many players and still be successful.
“I think we’ll score by committee,” Suggs said. “If everyone can be balanced, if everyone contributes in someway, scoring, rebounding, defense, then we’ll be pretty good.”
That’s not to say that Duke won’t need a go-to scorer this year, and if the preseason Blue/White scrimmage is any indication, redshirt junior Haley Gorecki figures to step into that role. The Palatine, Ill., native scored a team best 21 points and connected on her first four attempts from deep.
Fellow junior Leaonna Odom also looks prepared to shoulder a higher scoring load, as she was named to the Cheryl Miller award watch list for the top small forward in the country. Odom dominated the NCAA tournament last season and led the Blue Devils in scoring in all three of their games, momentum that she can build on going forward.
With the Splash Sisters gone, the team is fully committed to looking forward, but that doesn’t mean that they won’t focus on what they’ve learned from the two graduates. Gorecki acknowledges the benefits of playing alongside Brown and Greenwell.
“I think an alpha dog is always in me, but just being able to play by and with two great players has developed me a lot. They’ve been through a lot more, so being in their shoes and next to them has taught me a lot.”
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In her time in Durham, Lexie Brown was seen as the go-to ball handler. Gorecki doesn’t see someone stepping up and replacing that, however, and thinks that everyone on the court can be a “point guard” and move the ball up the floor.
“We can all handle the ball,” Gorecki said. “Being able to push the ball up the floor in transition is really helpful for us.”
McCallie is no stranger to losing talented scoring guards throughout her 11 years at Duke. The likes of Jasmine Thomas, Chelsea Gray, Tricia Liston and Haley Peters have all moved on and graduated at different times, yet the Blue Devils have only missed the NCAA tournament once in the Blue Devil head coach’s tenure.
“You’re always losing great players,” McCallie stressed, “We’re just lucky they stay longer for us than they do the guys.”
Both Splash Sisters were selected in the 2018 WNBA draft, going in the first and third rounds, respectively. Greenwell was released prior to the season, while Brown wrapped up an up-and-down rookie campaign with the Connecticut Sun.
No one is expecting anything similar to the type of two-player takeover that happened last season, and that’s what makes this Duke team exciting to watch. The squad is looking forward to creating their own identity moving forward with contributions from all 14 players.
“All options are open,” McCallie said. “We’re not trying to be a one person team, a two person team, a three person team. We’re trying to be an all team.”