- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 3, 2009

During a five-on-five drill Thursday at U.S. women’s national team practice, Lindsey Harding saw a trap coming at her in the corner. So the point guard drove baseline and, as the defense collapsed, fired a no-look pass into the crowded paint. The ball stuck to the hands of center Sylvia Fowles, who promptly laid it in.

“The most fun is you’re playing with the best athletes in the country, basically in the world. I can make passes in the area, and they catch everything,” Harding said. “It makes your life so much easier. But I’m trying not to look too far ahead, because I still have to make the team.”

That’s the goal for all three Washington Mystics players - Harding, Crystal Langhorne and Alana Beard - at American’s Bender Arena for the fall training camp, the first opportunity for invited players to show off their talent to coach Geno Auriemma.

The immediate task for the 23 WNBA and college players in consideration is to be among the group the United States takes to Russia for a tournament next week. But ultimately, they are jockeying for a position on the team that will play in the 2010 FIBA World Championship and, pending qualification, the 2012 London Olympics.

With so much at stake - “Of course everyone wants to be an Olympian; it’s one of the highest achievements you can ever receive,” Langhorne said - it can be easy to get caught up in the reality of the situation. So the Mystics players are keeping their approach simple.

“I’m just going to play my game,” Langhorne said. “They know what I do, so if I pretty much do that, I think I’ll be OK. Everyone is so good; you just want to show your strengths. I don’t really try to do new stuff here, just stuff that I’m good at.”

It helps that the Mystics players have all been through the process before. Harding and Beard were at training camps for the last Olympic cycle but were left off the team that won gold in Beijing. This is Langhorne’s first tryout for the senior national team, though she has won a gold medal at two world championships - as a member of the under-19 team in 2005 and under-21 team in 2007.

Collectively, that experience has put the Mystics trio at ease this time around.

“I can remember my first [tryout] when I first got into the WNBA. I was so nervous,” Harding said. “I didn’t know anyone; I was this little rookie. But now I’m about to go into my fourth season, and I know these players. I’m just more comfortable, which makes it more fun.”

Added Beard: “Maybe if this is your first time being a part of it, you do worry about the evaluation because you know that you have a selection committee that’s here watching you and it’s their decision whether or not you’re going to be on the team. On the other hand, when you get comfortable you understand you can only do what you can control, and that’s get out there, go hard every single day and play your game within the team concept of USA Basketball.”

While Langhorne and Harding have been participating in practice, Beard has been relegated to spectator status because of lingering effects of the sprained left ankle she suffered Aug. 30 and played with during the WNBA playoffs. She has perhaps the toughest task of the three Mystics players in trying to find a way onto the roster at a crowded shooting guard spot.

So although she was unable to make an impression this week while Diana Taurasi and Cappie Pondexter are playing in the WNBA Finals, Beard knows she will have to take advantage of her opportunity in subsequent training camps with the two returning Olympians also in attendance.

“You have to step in the gym knowing that you can compete with the best players in the world,” Beard said. “Everyone is competitive, and if you don’t bring your ‘A’ game, you’re going to be left behind.”

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