Chat with Mechelle Voepel
Welcome to SportsNation! On Thursday, women's basketball writer Mechelle Voepel will stop by to chat about the 2011 WNBA season.
Voepel is a regular contributor to ESPN.com's women's basketball coverage.
Send your questions now and join Voepel Thursday at 2 p.m. ET!
Mechelle Voepel (2:05 PM)
Good afternoon. I'm here in Colorado Springs at the U.S. Women's Open, which is usually a very interesting event to follow. But I expect most of today's questions will be on the WNBA, not golf. So let's get started.
Matt (Ann Arbor, Mich.)
I am awfully worried about the NBA lockout being a convenient excuse to get rid of the WNBA. This line of thought is all over the sports "commentators" already. Should I be worried?
Mechelle Voepel (2:09 PM)
I don't think it will happen. As has been pointed out by several writers and bloggers, the amount of money spent on the WNBA is negligible in regard to money the owners and NBA players are battling over. They could get rid of the entire WNBA this afternoon and not be any closer in their negotiations. The sports media world is unfortunately full of people who know nothing about women's athletics and don't take any time as reporters to do even a little of research before voicing an opinion. This is just another chance for them to crap on women's basketball. They'll take any opportunity.
kevin (macon ga)
It's curious to me that the WNBA had only one game scheduled on the holiday weekend. Was this a wise choice by the league?
Mechelle Voepel (2:11 PM)
No, I don't understand why the league didn't take advantage of getting games on at that time. But I actually think the Women's Open golf should have been a week earlier, too, and have its third/fourth rounds on the Fourth of July weekend.
aussie wnba fan (down under)
Hi Mechelle,LJ and Candace's injuries - have they thrown the west wide open ?As the top 4 start defining themselves for each conference it appears that there is still a lot of basketball to be played to earn your place.
Mechelle Voepel (2:16 PM)
Those injuries certainly do affect the whole tone of the Western Conference race. It definitely does seem to have that "wide-open" feel to it. But by the same token, it's really just a matter of which one of five teams gets left out. We already know Tulsa is out.
Joe Foss (Athens, Ohio)
There's been a lot of talk about the danger of injury caused by players swinging elbows, but not much action taken to prevent it. Instead of trying to fathom what a player's "intent" was, wouldn't a more workable rule be that if one player injures another with a swinging elbow, the offending player will be suspended for the length of time the injured player is out?
Mechelle Voepel (2:19 PM)
I'm not sure you're ever going to really eliminate flying elbows in basketball. I guess this kind of "eye for an eye" type of punishment might seem appealing, but I can't quite imagine something like this being implemented.
Troy (Gilbert, AZ)
Why hasn't Nolan Richardson been fired? Is Tulsa trying to give him time to adjust? I think the fact that Nolan essentially destroyed the Detroit Shock team should be a huge indication that he isn't fit to run a WNBA team. What more does he need to do for the Front Office to replace him? And when (not if) they do, who do they replace him with?
Mechelle Voepel (2:21 PM)
Lots and lots of questions about Nolan Richardson. I feel like I've beaten up on him a fair amount, but for good reason. Not sure what else to say that I haven't said already. I think everyone watching this is frustrated; the Shock have struggled so much, you just wonder how long it can go on without a change.
Johnny Sole (Park Ridge, Illinois)
This looks to be the year the Chicago Sky make the playoffs? Obviously, there is work to be done and maybe no long run but you agree they will at last be there?
Mechelle Voepel (2:24 PM)
I'm starting to wonder if we can write off the Mystics, similarly to how we are doing to Tulsa. Maybe Washington is not going to be that bad, but it could be that this is a playoff race between five teams, not six. And certainly, that helps Chicago's chances.
Indy is playing well, by committee, can they win it all this year?
Mechelle Voepel (2:27 PM)
Indy has tended to be a team that does play well "by committee" as you put it, including in 2009 when they went the distance before falling to Phoenix in the WNBA finals. So, yeah, I would say they have a chance to win the title this year. Even despite Briann January's injury.
Why would anyone vote for a player who has not played all season to be on the all-star team?
Mechelle Voepel (2:29 PM)
I guess it's like any other vote in a "democracy" ... you don't really have to know anything to vote. You can just vote for whomever you like and not have to give a reason for it. May not be a satisfying answer, but it's kind of the reality of the situation.
Helen (Back in New York)
So, imagine you were talking to someone who had been far, far away for the last few weeks and, say, missed the first part of the W season. What storylines did she miss and what stories should she look for during the remainder of the season?
Mechelle Voepel (2:33 PM)
The short answer is major injuries have impacted several teams, the Silver Stars have surprised some people (at least this person), the Shock is the mess most of us expected, the Mystics are the mess we expected but hoped wouldn't be the case, the Dream have been hard to figure, and the Lynx are going to make the playoffs again, finally.
In rookie comparisons, Moore hasn't been as dominant as anticipated....not shabby, but not dominant. Agreed? Reason?
Mechelle Voepel (2:38 PM)
I think she's to some degree feeling her way into the league, and that's to be expected. I don't know that I expected her to walk right in and dominate, so to speak, but she's more than holding her own on a good team. And let's see how she does when we get to the postseason (yes, I'm expecting the Lynx to be there) because Maya has a history of rising to the occasion in the big moments. She's got a winner's mentality. Overall, I think she's doing very well.
Matt (Ann Arbor, Mich.)
Be honest: What was your response when you saw Tulsa had signed Doneeka (Hodges) Lewis?
Mechelle Voepel (2:42 PM)
I thought, "Well, at least she's a guard." At this point, that probably rates as success for the Shock, if you will. At least they are on the right track of what position they need to shore up, even if this might not actually be the best player they could have picked up.
kevin (macon ga)
Using advanced statistics, Swish Appeal rated Kayla Pedersen as the top rookie of the first month of the season. Is it likely that the media members who vote on the award will dig that deeply into the numbers?
Mechelle Voepel (2:45 PM)
I have no idea what other media members are going to do. I think most people do try to take the voting very seriously. But the award is for rookie of the year, of course, not the first month.
Do you think Katie Smith can adjust to coming off the bench? I'm not talking emotionally, because she's a team player. But it seems like she started the season very slowly in DC also, before she had to fill in as a starter for the injured Beard. Could it be that she needs the playing time to develop her shooting rhythm?
Mechelle Voepel (2:50 PM)
In every conversation with Katie I've had, she's said she doesn't care if she comes off the bench or what kind of role she has, just so long as it's clearly defined. She is very good about adjusting to whatever role she's needed to fill. Right now, obviously, she's definitely struggling with her shot. She's been playing ball a long time, so I think she understands how to work her way out of slumps, and she has a great relationship with the coaching staff to help her with that.
kevin (macon ga)
The Dream are not that hard to figure. They've only had their starting lineup together for two games: one win and one road loss to the team with the best record in the league. Other than that they've been missing one or the other of their two best players (McCoughtry and Lyttle). Will they turn it on now that the team is intact?
Mechelle Voepel (2:55 PM)
OK, good enough. I always wonder what the correct answer to these questions is supposed to be. Will they turn it on? Even they probably don't know for sure. They need to, though.
If you could buy a WNBA team...would you? If so which one? Why?
Mechelle Voepel (2:56 PM)
I'd buy the Liberty and try to implement solutions to all the things I've heard Lib fans rightfully complain about for years.
Is this Tina's last year? Do you think she is going to return another season?
Mechelle Voepel (3:00 PM)
Tina Thompson has been saying for several years that she will re-evaluate after the season before deciding whether she comes back. But she keeps on coming back. At some point, it's inevitable that she retires, but I don't know that we're there yet. Tina has said she doesn't plan on making any big announcement or having a "farewell" tour. She kind of jokingly said she would just "fade" away. I'm sure her fans want more of a goodbye than that, though.
Reading the highlights of the "webinar" you linked made me think about lesbians in the WNBA. Has it actually gotten more difficult for them? Looking from the outside in, it seems that way, and I was wondering if that was really the case.
Mechelle Voepel (3:02 PM)
I don't know that I would say that it's gotten more difficult. It seems to me that players feel pretty confident and secure on their teams being open about their lives. They aren't open with the media, but I am not sure that's really too surprising. I would add I don't think the league has done anything to really encourage openness with the media/public, even if they haven't actively discouraged it.
Julie, NY [via mobile]
Do you know anything about the current U.S. Open leader Amy Anderson? If she ended up winning the whole thing, who would get the prize money since she's an amateur?
Mechelle Voepel (3:07 PM)
Funny you ask, because we're all here trying to catch up on who she is. If an amateur wins - we're still a long way from that, of course - the second-place finisher gets the first-place prize money. It's as if the amateur doesn't exist when it comes to awarding the money. Remember in 1998, amateur Jenny Chuasiriporn and Se Ri Pak dueled in a Monday 20-hole playoff for the Women's Open title. But that was a battle for the title and trophy, not the money. Se Ri, as a pro, would have won the winner's prize share regardless of who won the playoff. As it turned out, though, Se Ri did win the playoff.
If a WNBA player had a public lesbian wedding, in a US state where it's now legal, and was very open about it, do you think WNBA.com would cover it (as they have with several straight marriage ceremonies over the years)? Would ESPN use it for a halftime segment?
Mechelle Voepel (3:10 PM)
You know, I guess we'd have to see it happen to know how WNBA.com and ESPN television would handle it. I don't work on the TV side or sit in on any of their meetings to know what goes on in their decision-making processes. Same goes for WNBA.com. But what I can say is I would have no hesitation in writing about it on ESPN.com, nor would there be any objection to it from my editors.
Everyone touts the Bird/Taurasi backcourt as one of the best ever in college hoops, but what about Figgs/White? If we're talking just college (and not later WNBA success, when the answer is more obvious) are Figgs/White too often underrated?
Mechelle Voepel (3:15 PM)
I'm wondering who is underrating them? Stephanie White won the Wade Trophy in 1999, and I think most people who've been covering/following women's basketball going back to 1999 and beyond would quickly mention them as one of the best backcourts in women's college basketball's history. But, of course, it's a growing sport, so there are fans that come into the game every year and may not have that strong a sense of history. To me, 1999 isn't that long ago ... but to some folks that might as well be 1969.
USA Women's Soccer Fan (World Cup)
Do you think US Soccer will relieve Pia Sundhage of her job if the #1 ranked USA Women lose to Brazil in the World Cup Quarter-Finals on Sunday? USA Women have been slowly spiraling downward during the last 12 months. USA barely qualified for this World Cup and lost to Mexico, England, and Sweden prior to the World Cup. Yesterday they lost to Sweden in Group Stage. Sundhage has forced Amy LePeilbet to play out of position and the result has been a nightmare World Cup for Amy. Sundhage has refused to use faster players with equal talent in central midfield, instead of Rachel Buehler who is glaringly slow. Sundhage says the same thing after each match, "more possession, more patience, finish shots." The results are always the same because she uses the same players and the same 4-4-2 system. What is the definition of insanity?
Mechelle Voepel (3:18 PM)
Seems to me that you have already answered your question. :) I imagine a lot of U.S. women's soccer fans are frustrated by the team's defense, in particular, this entire year. But whether it will actually cost Pia her job ... I don't know about that. Would US Soccer really pull the plug on her the year before the Olympics, in which USA is the defending champion, and think the team would be better with a new coach going into London?
Whatever happened to Jenny Chuasiriporn? That playoff with Pak is one I will remember forever.
Mechelle Voepel (3:28 PM)
She was a college coach for a while, but I am not sure what she is doing now. (Update: Someone with the LPGA told me Jenny is working as a nurse now.) She is being inducted into the Duke Hall of Fame this year. BTW, the Women's Open returns to Blackwolf Run in Kohler, Wis., next year ... that was the course where it was held in 1998 when Chuasiriporn and Pak had their great playoff. And I was on the 18th green when Jenny hit that 40-foot putt Sunday to tie and force the playoff. That scene _ she covered her mouth with her hand like, "I can't believe I just did that," and her brother, who was caddying for her, raced up to hug her _ is one of the most memorable sports moments I've ever been present for. Seriously, it was just a magical feeling on that green. Fans were going nuts after that putt. Such a fun memory.
Who is favored to win the U.S. golf championship?
Mechelle Voepel (3:31 PM)
A lot of folks are expecting Yani Tseng, who recently dominated the LPGA Championship, to win here. BTW, the last time the Women's Open was here at the Broadmoor in Colorado Springs, it was 1995, and Annika Sorenstam won her very first LPGA title. She did rather well after that, don't you think?
Are you going to the All-Star game?
Mechelle Voepel (3:32 PM)
Yes, I will be in San Antonio for the All-Star Game. I expect the Silver Stars fans should be very excited for this, especially with how their season is going.
If someone were to give the WNBA one shot at becoming a fan and asked you what game they should watch, what two teams (with their current rosters) would you tell them to watch?
Mechelle Voepel (3:34 PM)
Right now, on this very day, I would want them to watch Indiana and Phoenix. I just like how well both these teams are playing now, and they would get a chance to see some of the best players (currently and long-term) in the league.
Who was the last team from the East to when a title?
Mechelle Voepel (3:37 PM)
The Detroit Shock in 2008. Of course, now they are Tulsa in the West, and unfortunately the last thing we're talking about with that franchise is a WNBA title.
Is it the summer heat? Everyone a little on edge here today? wow...
Mechelle Voepel (3:38 PM)
I thought it was just me. :) And it's not that hot in the media room where I am. Maybe it's just a grumpy day.
having followed your work since the late nineties, i was really impressed with your panel participation "the rainbow ceiling" the other day. it was as honest as you've ever been on the topic of homosexuality and women's sports. do you think we are close to having another Sherri Murrell in Division I women's hoops?
Mechelle Voepel (3:43 PM)
I certainly never mean to be anything other than honest about the topic. But it is still a difficult issue for the reasons we discussed - people are not that eager to talk about it. I don't know if there are going to be more gay coaches come out and live openly. A lot depends on how much support they really feel they have from their administrations.
Mechelle Voepel (3:44 PM)
Well, thanks for all the questions. Sorry there were several unanswered. Everybody try to keep from throwing too many elbows, and chat with you next week.