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Mystics, Fever meet in opener chasing fresh starts

Sportsnaut
Sep 7, 2018; Seattle, WA, USA; The WNBA logo on a ball during the fourth quarter of game one of the WNBA finals between the Seattle Storm and the Washington Mystics at KeyArena. Mandatory Credit: Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports

Neither the Indiana Fever nor the Washington Mystics hold much nostalgia for the 2021 WNBA season.

Looking to turn the page, the teams will meet Friday at Washington to open the 2022 campaign, featuring new looks for both teams under veteran coaches.

Indiana could have as many as four rookies in the starting lineup. NaLyssa Smith, who was the No. 2 overall pick in last month’s WNBA Draft out of Baylor, figures to be one of them. Smith was the first of the team’s four players taken among the top 10 picks in the draft, not counting second-round pick Destanni Henderson from NCAA champion South Carolina.

The Fever went 6-26 last season, creating the need for a roster overhaul under coach Marianne Stanley. Aside from Smith and Henderson, other rookies on the roster are Emily Engstler of Louisville (No. 4 overall pick), Lexie Hull of Stanford (No. 6) and Queen Egbo of Baylor (No. 10).

“They love to compete and coming from winning programs that compete at the highest level in college makes a huge, huge difference,” Stanley said.

Kelsey Mitchell’s presence, after averaging 17.8 points per game last season, should provide stability for the Fever.

“Our vets are doing a good job of helping us and being patient,” Egbo said.

Stanley had quite an offseason after it was announced last month she was voted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. She’ll be inducted in September.

Washington was 12-20 in 2021, missing a spot in the playoffs after four consecutive years of advancing.

The Mystics already had a setback with second-round draft pick Christyn Williams, a guard from Connecticut, going down with a season-ending knee injury during training camp.

First-round draft pick Shakira Austin, a center out of Ole Miss and the No. 3 overall selection, could be a factor.

“She’s one of the rare young players who can make an immediate impact on the defensive end of the court,” Mystics coach Mike Thibault said.

Thibault said there should be depth in the post and Austin shouldn’t have to be thrust into high-leverage situations right away.

Washington will play three of its first four games at home.

The Fever made roster cuts Wednesday with forwards Ameshya Williams-Holliday and Erin Whalen released, along with guard Lindsay Allen.

–Field Level Media