- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 24, 2009

The Washington Mystics naturally were downtrodden in the moments following their exit from the WNBA playoffs Saturday. They had high hopes entering the postseason, only to be frustrated yet again by the Indiana Fever.

But while reflecting on their season this week, there was a sense of relief and assuredness that the franchise had moved beyond the woes of years past.

“This year was a turning point for this organization,” Nakia Sanford said. “We have the right people in the right spots promoting this team and great players ready to take the Mystics to the next level.”

That would be the status of a perennial Eastern Conference contender, a label Washington has yet to achieve in its 12 seasons. This year was the Mystics’ fifth playoff appearance, but they have made it out of the first round only once. And 2006 remains the only year they finished the regular season with a winning record.

The feeling around Verizon Center, however, is that this latest rebuilding effort ultimately will be fruitful. General manager Angela Taylor and coach Julie Plank have a similar philosophy on personnel, and Plank’s style has rubbed off on the players.

“The foundation was set the moment we walked into training camp. Julie did a great job of setting the tone,” Alana Beard said. “We were competitive every single game. I can’t really ask anything more considering the circumstances.

“We were a young team; it was our first year together. A lot of the games that we lost, it was stuff that we could control, stuff that we could correct. So looking ahead to next year, we’re going to be a great team.”

Washington was the youngest team in the playoffs, and its inexperience proved costly at the most inopportune times. They lost all six games to the veteran Fever this year, with each game decided in the fourth quarter or overtime.

But instead of lamenting their ineptitude against Indiana, the Mystics came away from their playoff series with an appreciation for the intangibles that teams acquire over time.

“I think the difference between us and some of the other teams that have been a little more successful is the time they’ve been together,” Monique Currie said. “There’s no doubt in my mind that we’re just as talented as every team in the league. To have players that can stay together and play together and learn about each other more, it can only help you be more successful.”

Plank and Taylor reworked Washington’s roster last offseason, so the Mystics had to learn to play together on the fly. That led to many frustrating moments over the course of the season, but they held the belief that the team could win.

“It helps that we all like each other and we all get along very well. That just makes you want to play for each other,” Currie said. “When things get tough, we have each other’s backs, so we pull together.”

That could get the Mystics only so far. They clinched the last playoff spot in the East on the last weekend of the regular season, and it was the first postseason experience for most of Washington’s main contributors.

Armed with the relative success they enjoyed this season, the Mystics are thinking big for next year and beyond.

“We jelled a lot,” Crystal Langhorne said. “Just having so many new players, I think now we kind of have a sense of the direction we’re going to go and what we need to do.”

Note - A league source said Wednesday that first-round pick Marissa Coleman has been named to the WNBA All-Rookie team. The league is expected to announcement the team on Thursday.

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