- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 17, 2012

The Washington Mystics’ four returning players are ready to stop talking, and thinking, about last season.

Crystal Langhorne, Monique Currie, Matee Ajavon and Jasmine Thomas — the only players to return from last year’s team — have already put the disappointment of a 6-28 season behind them and are looking ahead.

“We only won six games last year because we were playing individually,” Ajavon said. “This year, we want to play as a team and win more games. At this point, the beginning of the season, you’ve got to believe. If you have a goal that you’re trying to achieve, you have to work every day towards that.”

Armed with a better mix of young players and veterans than they had last season, when they were one of the league’s youngest teams, the Mystics hope to begin their 15th season with a return to playoff form. Washington went 1-1 in the preseason, losing to the Chicago Sky on the road and defeating the Connecticut Sun at home, and will start the season Saturday at home against the Sky.

In their 14 seasons, the Mystics have qualified for the playoffs six times but have only made it past the first round once, during the 2002 season when they lost in the conference final to the New York Liberty.

They remain the only team in the WNBA with six trips to the playoffs and not one appearance in the final.

This season, the team will celebrate its 15th anniversary with the selection of the all-time Mystics team - and hopes to make a deep playoff run.

“We look forward to going to the playoffs this year, and playing for a championship,” Ajavon said. “We have to aim high.”

During training camp, coach Trudi Lacey put the focus on establishing chemistry through team building exercises, including a day of Navy SEAL training on the Potomac River. Lacey was looking for leadership and toughness in her players.

“Our goal this season is to expect excellence from ourselves every single day,” Lacey said. “I believe if we do that, it will translate into wins. We want to create a good attitude and good habits, and most of all, come with a team-first attitude. We’re going to need all 11 players.”

With the departure of four-time All-Star Alana Beard, and popular former Maryland star Marissa Coleman, the focus shifts to Langhorne and Currie to provide veteran leadership and lend stability to a team with a seven new faces. Langhorne and Currie, along with Noelle Quinn, will serve as team captains.

Tall and athletic, with 6-foot-4 center Ashley Robinson and 6-foot-5 Michelle Snow patrolling the paint at center, the Mystics will focus on running, defense and rebounding.

They’ll also look to improve their transition game, cut down on turnovers, and learn how to close out games.

“We don’t care about who takes the shot, we just want to get the best shot possible every single possession,” Lacey said. “This year, it’s all about having a team-first philosophy.”

• Carla Peay can be reached at cpeay@washingtontimes.com.

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