By the time the final buzzer sounded, the game was already in hand — the Lynx were going to win the WNBA Championship. The Fever had fought off the seasoned Lynx and several other teams along the way for their magical playoff run that pushed the Finals to a fifth and deciding game. And while few expected the Fever to even escape the Eastern Conference, they came within one game of the ultimate prize.
On Sunday afternoon, the Indiana Fever will open up the next chapter in their quest for a second championship by kicking off their 2016 training camp.
The pressure to win this year is magnified by it being the final run for Tamika Catchings, who will retire at the conclusion of the season. Catchings, who is entering her 16th active season, still has more than enough in the tank to help propel Indiana on another title run, and over the offseason, the Fever loaded up with help to put Indiana over the top.
In February, as part of a sign-and-trade deal, the Fever acquired Devereaux Peters of the Minnesota Lynx in exchange for Natasha Howard. Peters starred at Notre Dame during her college years, and as a pro, she has primarily come off the bench for the star-studded Lynx, averaging 4.2 points and 3.9 rebounds.
And while the Fever lost a key member of their recent years of success when Shavonte Zellous departed in free agency, Indiana selected the versatile and defensive-minded Tiffany Mitchell out of South Carolina in the first round of the WNBA Draft. Mitchell averaged 14.9 points and 2.6 assists as a senior, and shot 40 percent on 3-pointers over the course of her college career.
“Everything about Tiffany Mitchell is pro-ready,” said Fever President and General Manager Kelly Krauskopf. “She’s got a lot of attributes I have been looking for. She was very high on her list in terms of her work ethic and the way she approaches the game.”
Mitchell might need to learn what it takes to play in the WNBA faster than some rookies, as it is still uncertain whether Briann January — who underwent offseason surgery on her right knee — will be ready for game action by Opening Night on Saturday, May 14.
When last season’s training camp opened up, there was optimism infused with uncertainty in the air. Stephanie White, who had been Lin Dunn’s assistant coach from 2011-2014, took over as the head coach, implementing a fast-paced offensive attack and an agressive defensive scheme.
The coaching staff that helped bring about that change has shifted as well. During the offseason, Gail Goestenkors stepped away from coaching to pursue other interests.
“I’m certainly sad that Gail has chosen to leave coaching,” said White, “but I’m very fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with her. She is one of the best, and to be able to step on the floor with her every day was such a blessing. I’m thankful for everything that she taught me and for her impact on our team and franchise.”
To fill the spot left by Goestenkors, the Fever hired Steven Key as an assistant coach. Key has been an assistant coach to Anne Donovan with the Connecticut Sun for the past two seasons, and worked alongside coach White when they were both a part of the Chicago Sky’s organization from 2008-2010.
Despite the changes around the coaching staff and roster, the shifts are minor in comparison to last season’s overhaul. The Fever are returning a very similar team to the one that made a WNBA Finals run.
Last year, while the team tried to figure out its identity, the Fever sputtered to a 1-4 start. This year, they know their style, they know their players, and they know their coach.
It’s Catchings’ final year, and while plenty has already been done over the offseason to commemorate her legacy and impact with the Fever and Indiana as a whole, the on-court work starts Sunday when the Fever open training camp for the 17th time in franchise history, with the hopes of sending Catchings off with another championship to her name.