As the Los Angeles Sparks started their 2017 campaign this month, they celebrated last years historic run to winning the 2016 WNBA Finals. During the season opener against the Seattle Storm, the Sparks’ 2016 championship banner was revealed, marking the franchise’s third title.
Less than a week later, the 2016 Los Angeles squad received their championship rings from WNBA President Lisa Borders.
As the league title-winning run echoes through the minds of Sparks veterans, the challenge to maintain dominance in the WNBA is the focus for Los Angeles.
“I believe in the process,” said veteran guard Alana Beard. “I believe that every day is a step towards our goal.”
In order for the Sparks to achieve a second consecutive championship, they must evolve from their performance last year.
“It’s difficult to win one championship,” said general manager Penny Toler. “To win two is even more difficult.”
The 2017 squad has new reserves and familiar starters, as Los Angeles welcomes back Riquna Williams who was out last season due to an Achilles injury.
Los Angeles must tread on without sharpshooting guard Kristi Toliver, who signed with the Washington Mystics in the offseason. Toliver averaged 13.2 points per game and shot at 42.4 percent from behind the arc for the Sparks last season.
The bench had been transformed; the Sparks added center Maimouna Diarra and forwards Tiffany Jackson-Jones and Ify Ibekwe in free agency.
“I’ve always loved her demeanor,” Toler said about Jackson-Jones. “As opposed to beating our players, now come play with these players because she’s a tough opponent.”
In replacement for the fourth overall pick in the 2017 draft, Los Angeles acquired Odyssey Sims, a three-year veteran from the Dallas Wings in the offseason.
Familiar reserves are 2016 Sixth Woman of the Year Jantel Lavender and Chelsea Gray. Gray averaged 5.9 points per game and shot at 45.2 percent in field goals.
“Chelsea was great last year,” said head coach Brian Agler. “When she got the next opportunity, she just took off with it and played strong through the rest of the regular season and into the playoffs.”
Gray noticed how the new players are gelling with the team and finding ways to contribute. Sims scored 20 points in the Sparks season opener against the Seattle Storm, Jackson-Jones led in rebounds with eight.
“You always question how players are gonna fit,” Gray said. “I think it’s gonna take time like anything, but I think our chemistry is showing and it’s starting to come through.”
Returning players like forwards Candace Parker, WNBA MVP Nneka Ogwumike, guard Essence Carson, and Lavender spent the offseason creating contending runs for overseas teams.
Lavender and Parker teamed up on Fenerbahce of Istanbul and lost to Dynamo Kursk of Russia, the team Ogwumike plays for, in the Euroleague finals. Ogwumike helped the team win their first championship.
“I’ve been playing with Epiphanny Prince. Last year, Angel McCoughtry joined the team,” Ogwumike said. “It was a huge year for us last year because we won the Euroleague Championship, which was pretty awesome.”
Carson also helped usher her team, Yakin Dogu B.G.D. of Turkey, to a championship over Fenerbahce, days before the Sparks second game of the regular season.
“It’s nice for me when things don’t end the way that you want them to, to be able to kind of get back on the court and rectify it in another way,” said Parker. “You don’t have to wait as long for revenge.”