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July 30, 1:00 PM ET
Chat with Mechelle Voepel

Mechelle Voepel
  (1:04 PM)

Good afternoon, folks. Sorry for the delay from Thursday, ran into some travel difficulties. Let's get started. Wonder if anyone is going to ask me to predict the East playoff teams ... and how will I dodge it this week? :)

Erin Hengesbach (Portland, MI)

IF the Storm make it to the Finals and are not upset then which eastern conference team has the best chance of beating them?

Mechelle Voepel
  (1:08 PM)

Erin also asked about which West team had the best chance of beating the mighty Storm, so I'll take a guess at both. For the West, the answer is pretty easy. The only team I think in the West that can pull the giant upset is Phoenix. We've seen the Mercury knock on the door a couple times and still get turned away. If they meet in the playoffs, can the Merc really win two from the Storm? I am not saying I think it will happen, but if any West team can do it, it's Phoenix. However, I do expect the Storm to be in the Finals, and I think in the last chat, I put Indiana as the most likely to give them a challenge. I still have the Fever on that very short list ... along with Atlanta. I saw the Dream in person for the first time this past week and was very impressed. Admittedly, it was against Tulsa, but Atlanta has all the offensive weapons, a deep and useful bench and a lot of size and strength inside to try to wear down the Great Aussie ... or at least make an attempt to.

rcc (new york)

What's the Shock up to trading away all its players?

Mechelle Voepel
  (1:10 PM)

Like most observers, I've been watching this saying, "Is there really a "plan?" I hope there is ... and not just coach Nolan Richardson's, "I need to get 'my' kind of players in here." There needs to be more of a detailed, overall vision than that. At this point, I'm not sure why they're not giving a player like Amanda Thompson from Oklahoma a spot to try to improve and make the team next year. Build up some local/statewide goodwill .... and it's not like the Shock are just so good that a player like that can't contribute. We'll see what the Shock have in store for next season, but right now it's normal if fans of the league are disappointed and skeptical.

kevin (macon ga)

Former WBL player Kaye Cowher passed away this week. Why didn't that league succeed?

Mechelle Voepel
  (1:14 PM)

Indeed, a former WBL and N.C. State player ... I think it was just way, way too early for pro women's basketball to really make a go of it. The collegiate sport was still so young then, and there just wasn't enough of an audience and few ways to effectively develop it. When you consider how hard it still is for the WNBA to crack mainstream consciousness at all even in 2010, you have to admire that the WBL even got off the ground. Kind of like an early Wright Brothers plane ... just defying gravity for a little while was an accomplishment. :)

Sue (Durham, NC)

Which college team do you see being a contender that nobody is talking about? UConn, Stanford, Baylor have all got star power out the wazoo and are coming off a FF appearance. Keep in mind if you say Ohio State, you might get banned from the Women's Basketball Intelligentia (sp?) due to their perennial post season melt down.

Mechelle Voepel
  (1:18 PM)

I don't know if UCLA will be a contender this year, but I'm intrigued by that program's potential to contend as Nikki Caldwell tries to really build it and recruit nationwide. I keep thinking Florida is going to bust out under Amanda Butler and make a prolonged postseason run at some point. I really liked what I saw of St. John's this past season and it would be awesome to see another Big East team such as that emerge, especially being in NYC. Those are just off the top of my head. Oh, and in the Big Ten, I am curious to see if Iowa builds off its momentum from last season when the Hawkeyes overcame so many injuries. Also would like to see Michigan finally make a breakthrough.

Sandra Robinson (Bethesda, MD)

I heard that Mary Jo Kane has been asked to serve on an advisory group to advise ESPN regarding their coverage of women's sports. I hope this is true and what improvements would like to see, if you can comment? Thank you.

Mechelle Voepel
  (1:23 PM)

Several questions on espnW, and its potential impact on coverage of women's sports. I want to stress this very much: please, please, please let ESPN.com know - through the ombudsman or a giant billboard or using a plane with the message trailing it, whatever - that you are a consumer who values the coverage of women's sports and you want to see more of it. That you really want professional, nuanced, in-depth coverage of women's and girls sports. The reason I say this is I feel there is still that hesitance and lack of belief that the market is out there and that you really exist in significant numbers. I definitely believe you do, and that you should be better-served. But the "powers that be" need to hear it from you, too. Please. :)

Sam (NYC)

Is there any chance that Nicole Powell will pick up her game for the rest of the season or is this season going to be completely lost forr her?

Mechelle Voepel
  (1:27 PM)

Also a lot of questions about Nicole Powell, a topic that we discussed a bit in a recent chat. I think there's still time for her to throw on the switch and play better, but at this point you have to wonder if it's going to happen. She has had some really poor shooting games, enough so that it seems like more than just a "slump." The Liberty is still in the thick of the playoff race, so they still need her to try to salvage what she can out of this summer. If she is able to have a really good August, what happened to this point will be less relevant, of course.

kevin (macon ga)

IUPUI is investigating their WBB program after losing 28 players and coaches in four years. Why does it take so long for schools to notice problems like this?

Mechelle Voepel
  (1:33 PM)

Yes, what a mess it has been there. The Indianapolis Star is trying to get to the bottom of it, too, which I know from experience is not an enviable task. I think the answer is depressingly familiar, though: Too often, athletic directors simply do not WANT to pay attention to their women's programs. They don't care enough. They want to say, "Look, we'll fund you because we have to, but I don't want to have to 'worry' about you. Just do your thing and graduate people and don't bother me." I mean, it's not literally that dismissive ... they will all say the same BS about how they really do care ... but the proof is in the pudding, as they say. It takes nearly a complete meltdown of the programs at places such as Oregon State and IUPUI for anyone in power to even notice something's wrong. Plus, you add in that not enough alumni and fans care. They are not paying attention, so they aren't putting pressure on the AD and other athletic department officials and the school itself to say, "What in the world is going on there?" They call this "benign neglect" ... and I think it's far too prevalent in the collegiate sports world. Except in these circumstances like at Ore. State and IUPUI and others that preceded and will follow them, it isn't really benign at all. It's very harmful.

kevin (macon ga)

Is it too early to talk about the Storm as one of the best teams in WNBA history?

Mechelle Voepel
  (1:35 PM)

Yes, too early now. On track to having one of the best seasons and getting into the discussion of best teams ... but until the Storm actually wins the title this year, it's not time to have that discussion. If Seattle DOES win, it will be fun to hear observers' takes on how 2010 Seattle compares to other teams, particular the "best" Comets team.

Judith (Washington, DC)

The Mystics have lost 4 of the 5 games they've played since your glowing article about them. Do you think you perhaps could stick some pins into your chest or throw salt over your left shoulder or something before they play again this evening?

Mechelle Voepel
  (1:37 PM)

Yeah, me and my big mouth, right? But strangely enough, the Vojo jinx has not impacted Indiana or Seattle. The Mystics have been a confusing team for me to figure out this season ... I thought they would struggle, then they came on strong so I said, "Oh, they're going to be fine," ... and now they're struggling again.

Helen (New York)

Looking at the rosters, which players are a "wow, I didn't think they'd make it in the W" and who's missing that you expected to be wearing a pro uniform?

Mechelle Voepel
  (1:41 PM)

I have to say that I didn't know that New York's Leilani Mitchell would be in the W, mostly because I didn't think she'd be given a chance. And I will always marvel about Washington's Nakia Sanford, who left Kansas in 1999 and said she was tired of playing. Never expected to see her come back to earn a W spot and be in the league this long. There are actually a lot of players that I thought had a chance or deserved one, but they didn't get a chance or they just didn't find the right fit. It will probably not surprise anyone when I say that, having watched Kendra Wecker for four years at Kansas State, I really thought she would find a place in the WNBA. It's hard, though, to be a tweener, especially if you get hurt the first game of your career. (She ACL'ed in her opener at San Antonio). Nonetheless, Kendra is one of the best female all-around athletes I've ever seen.

Helen (New York)

Do you know the team management well enough to point out which has "Best Practices" vis a vis fan relations that other teams might steal? Why doesn't Orender push for better collaboration and "stealing" amongst the teams?

Mechelle Voepel
  (1:45 PM)

From what I've heard from fans, I think Seattle does a pretty good job reaching out and making fans feel they have a real investment in the team. And to me, that's the key. I think the league misses so many opportunities to really connect with the people who are working hard to help the WNBA - the folks on RebKell, the Women's Hoops Blog, the various independent bloggers ... there are a lot of people who are networking and promoting on behalf of the WNBA to whom the league seems oblivious. It continues to baffle me. The true fans are one of this sport's greatest and most reliable assets - there are some brilliant people who are basically assisting the league for free and are glad to do it ... but it would be nice if they were acknowledged.

Barry (Phoenix, AZ)

Best Betty White role...Sue Ann Nivens or Rose Nylund?

Mechelle Voepel
  (1:49 PM)

I really debated this ... and I have to give the edge to Sue Ann Nivens in the "Mary Tyler Moore Show." Just because that particular character was so "against-type" for Betty White to that point in her career, and it was not really a character that we'd seen before. We'd seen plenty of funny but sad-sack Miss Lonely Hearts types, such as Rose Marie's Sally Rogers on "The Dick Van Dyke Show." Heck, even my beloved Rhoda was like that. But Sue Ann was out to have fun and chase/catch as many men as she felt like ... especially targeting Lou Grant, of course. Both characters, though, make me laugh every time I watch them.

Mary (WV)

Do you think Jenny Boucek will get a chance to head coach again? One of the criticisms thrown at her at Sacramento is the way she was apparently equally interested in developing her players off the court as well as on the court, and this is better suited to the college game. Do you agree?

Mechelle Voepel
  (1:53 PM)

Jenny is super intense, but in talking to several players with the Monarchs, my sense was that most of them really liked and respected her. They did not feel she was trying to micromanage lives or try to steer people toward a certain religion or some other things that were said about her. One player in particular stressed to me that these were rumors that really surprised her. Now, as for the intensity factor ... maybe she finds a way to dial that down just a little, since this is the pro game and they're grownups. But having known Jenny for a long, long time, I really think she will find a head-coaching spot again either in college or the pros. And she will give 100 percent all the time. That's just how she is.

Emma (Boston)

How big an impact do you think Braxton will have for Phoenix?

Mechelle Voepel
  (1:56 PM)

If nothing else, Kara Braxton is very skilled, a big body, and she seems to have always played the best in the most important games. This can drive coaches and fans crazy, but in the Mercury's case, it might work out fine. Nobody is ever surprised when Kara turns it on and we remember, "Oh, yeah, she's super-talented." And that could happen in just a few postseason games, which could make a big difference for the Merc. And if she doesn't do that ... I don't think they're any worse off than they were without her. So it seems pretty win-win for the Merc as far as giving her a shot to contribute.

Mechelle Voepel
  (1:58 PM)

Have to apologize for not getting to more questions ... please come back next week, when I won't be traveling on Thursday so I won't have to change days for the chat. :) Enjoy the weekend. Whoops, I forgot to answer about the East playoff teams again. OK, here goes: Atlanta, Indiana, Connecticut, New York. That's my "gift" to Mystics fans ... now the jinx is broken, right? :)