Coming off the franchise’s second WNBA title, the Detroit Shock hope to avoid a repeat of the follow-up to their first one.
In a rematch of last year’s WNBA finals, the defending champion Shock face the Sacramento Monarchs on Saturday at The Palace of Auburn Hills.
Detroit knocked off Sacramento in five games in last year’s finals to win the franchise’s second title. The Shock came back with a disappointing season after their first championship in 2003, going 17-17 the following year and failing to make it out of the first round of the playoffs.
“When we won in 2003, it happened so fast and we were so young,” Detroit coach Bill Laimbeer said. “We rode the wave and the following year we expected it to be the same. It doesn’t work that way.”
Detroit, which went 23-11 last year, made several moves during the offseason in hopes of getting even better, and the rest of the league has taken notice.
“Of course, when we’re talking about the finals, the East is run through Detroit,” Indiana star Tamika Catchings said. “I think all the teams in the East are conscientious of what the Shock are doing.”
The biggest change for the Shock this season will be the absence of Ruth Riley, who spent the last four seasons in Detroit and was the 2003 WNBA finals MVP. Riley started every game last season, but her 7.3 points per game average was her lowest in four years.
In trading Riley to San Antonio, the Shock received 6-foot-8 Katie Feenstra in return. Feenstra averaged 7.8 points and 6.1 rebounds last season—her second in the WNBA. She’ll provide more help on the glass, where Detroit led the league last season with 37.9 rebounds per game.
Feenstra is joined by Shannon Johnson, who comes to Detroit as a free agent after three years with the Silver Stars. In her ninth WNBA season, the 32-year-old guard averaged 9.9 points and 3.7 assists last season and is expected to back up Katie Smith, who started all 34 games in 2006.
Detroit also returns its two biggest stars—2006 finals MVP Deanna Nolan and Cheryl Ford. Each player averaged 13.8 points to lead the team last season, Nolan added 3.6 assists and 1.4 steals per game and Ford averaged a career-high 11.3 rebounds.
Swin Cash returns for her sixth season with the Shock. After averaging career lows in 2005 because of knee issues, Cash underwent surgery and returned last season to average 10.5 points, 4.9 rebounds and 3.1 assists.
“I think we have enough talent to be right back where we were,” Smith said. “We just need to go into work every day knowing that every opponent is going to give us their best shot and want to knock us off.”
Sacramento is one of those teams. Following a 21-13 regular season, the Monarchs were back in the WNBA finals last year after winning the championship in 2005.
Coach Jenny Boucek takes over for John Whisenant, who resigned to focus more on his duties as general manager. Boucek faces a tough start to her first season with four straight road games—the first three of which are in a four-day span.
The Monarchs return all five starters, however, so there’s plenty of leadership. Six-time All-Star Yolanda Griffith is at the top of that list, having averaged team highs of 12.0 points and 6.4 rebounds last season. Griffith is joined in the starting frontcourt by Nicole Powell, who averaged 9.6 points and 3.9 boards last season.
Sacramento also reacquired Chelsea Newton during the offseason. Newton was picked in Chicago’s expansion draft last season and averaged a career-high 6.5 points, 2.6 rebounds and 2.1 assists for the Sky.
“Our goal is to maximize our potential,” Boucek told the team’s official Web site. “We will give our all and depending on injuries, our best should be really good.”