So far, so good for Monarchs

Originally Published: May 19, 2005
By Mechelle Voepel | Special to ESPN.com

We'll start off with this week's extreme juxtaposition, which has nothing to do with basketball, but everything to do with women.

Ticha Penicheiro
AP Photo/Darron CummingsShe's shooting just 28.5 percent from the field, but Ticha Penicheiro's 5.0 apg are vital to Sacramento's success.

On Thursday, the mail came, and Danica Patrick was on the cover of "Sports Illustrated" after her fourth-place finish at the Indy 500. Soon after, I saw a story had moved on the Associated Press wire about the uproar in Saudi Arabia over the mere mention by one Saudi legislator of considering the idea of allowing women to drive in that country.

You can only think about this so long before you're ready to start throwing stuff … and that's unacceptable because my office is a big-enough mess as it is. So it was time to go through the several-times-a-day clicking around the 'net for whatever women's hoops tidbits are out there.

Alas, then the task was at hand: write about the Sacramento Monarchs. I'd told my editor earlier this week, "I'm interested in the Monarchs, they're 3-0 and … "

But I knew what I'd just unleashed. I thought: "Sure, the Monarchs haven't lost a game. Except, now that I've said that, the Monarchs' losing streak is about to begin. About the only thing for sure now is the Silver Stars are going to keep losing … except, now that I said that – and since Charlotte is on the way to San Antonio – get ready for the Silver Stars' first victory.

"OK, Charlotte did beat Los Angeles last Saturday … except, now that I've said that, the Sting is in trouble. Then again, preseason favorite L.A. already has lost two games … except, now that I've said that, the Sparks might dominate against Sacramento this Saturday on ABC.

"Except, now that I've said that, the Monarchs will pound them. Except … "

So you know how it goes. There's parity, and then there's anarchy, and the latter is what the WNBA's first two weeks have seemed like. This is nothing new, of course, but each summer I have to get readjusted to it.

But what the heck. Yes, Sacramento lost its first game of the season, 61-60, at Indiana Wednesday. The Monarchs host the Sparks Saturday, but even if they don't win that game, they're still big on my radar screen.

Kristen Haynie
AP Photo/Darron CummingsRookie Kristin Haynie and the Monarchs opened the season with three straight wins.

Sacramento kind of rolled the dice a bit this year. The Monarchs made a run at getting into the WNBA Finals last season, falling in the Western Conference finals 2-1 to eventual champion Seattle.

Since then, the Monarchs have made some moves. They traded dependable veteran post player Tangela Smith to Charlotte for three players, led by Nicole Powell, who had a disappointing rookie season last year. They more recently shipped 6-foot-6 Chantelle Anderson, the No. 2 pick in the 2003 draft, to San Antonio for a first-round pick in next year's draft.

Sacramento coach and general manager John Whisenant explained the decision to trade Smith: "We had to take a gamble. Last year, we did not score a single 3-pointer from our three position, and we averaged almost six turnovers a game from our three position. It was [my] fault for playing [people] out of position. If I allowed it to continue to remain that way, then I certainly deserve criticism. I had to make moves … only time will tell if it works out for the better."

Of course, coming back to California was a big emotional boost for former Stanford star Powell, who never got comfortable in Charlotte. Through four games, Powell is averaging 9.0 points and 2.8 assists, and she's 8-for-21 on 3-pointers. It's too early, obviously, to pronounce the trade a success for Sacramento, but so far, so good.

As for dealing away Anderson, it made complete sense. She wasn't seeing the light of day for Sacramento, and if she's ever going to develop into a pro player who really takes advantage of her size, she'll have to play a lot. We'll see how that shakes out in San Antonio, which also has 6-8 rookie Katie Feenstra, who, incidentally, had 16 points in the Silver Stars' first victory Thursday.

So the mix the Monarchs have now seems pretty good. Yolanda Griffith has started the season as her usual self, averaging 15.0 points and 9.0 rebounds. And she leads the team in minutes played, too.

DeMya Walker has more on her shoulders now with Smith gone to Charlotte, but it helps to have Rebekkah Brunson with a year's experience.

As for point guard Ticha Penicheiro's shooting … as they say, it is what it is. Penicheiro's shooting percentage for her WNBA career is 33.8 percent overall and 24.9 percent from behind the arc. But she's there more to get the ball around to other people, rather than through the hoop. And she does that, averaging 7.0 assists per game in her career.

Will the Monarchs be strong enough inside, especially defensively, to be the team that survives the West? Clearly, that's going to be very tough. But, at least so far, it's been a good start to a season in which Sacramento hopes it can have its best outcome yet.

Except, now that I've said that …

Mechelle Voepel of the Kansas City Star is a regular contributor to ESPN.com. She can be reached at mvoepel@kcstar.com.

Mechelle Voepel joined ESPN.com in 1996 and covers women's college hoops, the WNBA, the LPGA, and additional collegiate sports for espnW.