Eleven games into the season, the Seattle Storm are in first place in the Western Conference.
It’s really a simple, seemingly innocuous statement until we take a closer look: In April, the Storm lost league MVP Breanna Stewart for the season with a ruptured Achilles tendon. A few days later, we learned their head coach Dan Hughes would need surgery to remove a cancerous tumor in his digestive tract. A month later, we learned future Hall of Famer Sue Bird would miss most, if not all, of this season with a knee injury.
And yet, here we are 11 games in, and the Storm are in first place in the Western Conference.
Oh, and did I mention that seven of their first nine games were on the road – six of them in the Eastern Time Zone? And when they actually played at home, it had to be in an unfamiliar setting in Everett, which will share duties with UW while their new billion dollar home at Seattle Center goes up.
So yes, for two months, the Storm have been the mercenaries of the WNBA without their two best players (or their backup point guard the last two games), in an unusual home arena, and until this weekend, without their head coach.
And they’re STILL in first place in their conference!
It’s a statement to all of us, including myself, who admittedly doubted their prospects this season. To all of us that laughed off this seemingly cliché-sounding notion from Jewell Loyd before the year even began: “The way I see it is, we’re the champions until somebody beats us,” she said.
It turns out, Jewell was right. Because as defending champions, we forgot that everyone on this team has the heart of a champion – the resilience of a champion too – traits that can’t be measured or defined.
It’s a reminder that when the Storm won a title last season, they did so as a team. The role players who return this year won a championship too – spurring confidence to handle the extra responsibilities that come with the absence of two perennial All-Stars and team leaders.
So far, Natasha Howard has gone from Most Improved Player last season to a dominant force this year. When you combine that with Jewell Loyd’s star-power, Alycia Clark’s consistency, Sami Whitcomb’s scrappiness, and more, the winning formula is actually still there. It’s also a testament to a front office that’s withstood the challenges of smaller rosters in the WNBA to build a team with enough depth to endure such crushing blows.
This whole week, we’ve embraced the Seattle Seawolves, who won a second straight championship, thanks to an incredible push in the final seconds. But we often forget that those championship moments overshadow a memorable journey to get there in the first place – filled with their own challenges and adversities, to test a team’s will.
If you’re paying attention, that’s what the Storm are overcoming right now: No Stewie, no Sue, no head coach for nine games, no familiar home in which to play. And yet, 11 games in, they’re at the top of the standings in the West.
Maybe that quest for two straight titles isn’t a pipe dream after all.