Sky leaning on veteran leadership to reach semifinals

Sky leaning on veteran leadership to reach semifinals

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Since the Sky’s first trip to the WNBA playoffs in 2013, the franchise has missed the postseason only twice (2017 and 2018). It’s a testament to the organization’s longest-tenured players.

Every Sky playoff run has featured Allie Quigley and Courtney Vandersloot.

The Sky’s first trip to the playoffs came in 2013. Then-coach Pokey Chatman had signed Quigley, and Vandersloot was in her third year in the WNBA.

The duo has seen players who were supposed to lift the organization to championship heights come and go. Sylvia Fowles and Elena Delle Donne, franchise players, left to win titles with other teams.

Through it all, Quigley and Vandersloot have remained ultra-dependable. Since ’13, the Sky have only missed the playoffs in 2017 and 2018. It’s a testament to the organization’s longest-tenured players.

“They’re ride or die,” coach/general manager James Wade said.

Quigley and Vandersloot have different leadership styles.

Past and present teammates have described Vandersloot as an emotional leader. She’s not going to say much, but she’s going to express herself through action. As Vandersloot goes, so goes the team.

Quigley is more talkative and thoughtful with her teammates. She’s the veteran who knows what to say and how to say it to each of her teammates. As one of the league’s best knockdown shooters, she’s often sharing tips on how to evade defenders.

When the Sky added Candace Parker to the mix ahead of the 2021 season, they were adding a vocal leader with a championship pedigree they desperately needed.

Parker hasn’t been the surefire answer that fans expected at the beginning of the season, largely because of unexpected roadblocks.

The team started the season battling injuries. A seven-game skid was followed by a seven-game winning streak. Wade’s changes to the starting five after the Olympic break were the last unexpected turn in a season that was expected to be the Sky’s most successful.

But this three-headed veteran monster could yet carry the team through adversity and back to the semifinals for the first time since 2016.

“We have to be at our very best to beat any team,” Vandersloot said. “We have a lot of parts, but this team looks at us to be the leaders, to be aggressive, to get everyone on the same page and make things easier. Our impact right from the very beginning needs to be at a high level.”

In their last two playoff appearances under the league’s new format, the Sky were knocked out in second-round (2019) and first-round (2020) single-elimination games.

Both seasons resulted in different learning experiences. On Thursday, when faced with an aggressive Dallas Wings offense that was slowly chipping away at their double-digit lead, the Sky did not lose their composure.

Wade saw his team’s huddles get tighter and communication get louder, and the Sky responded instead of folding. Chants of ‘‘Sloot, there it is” filled Wintrust Arena as the Sky’s floor general took over in the last two minutes.

Parker broke several postseason records against the Wings. She moved up to sixth in WNBA playoff history with 904 points and to fourth on the all-time playoff rebounding list.

In Quigley’s 24 playoff games, she has averaged 11.3 points on 46% shooting.

The Sky will lean heavily on the trio to lead them past Fowles and the Minnesota Lynx in order to get to their first playoff series in five years. The Sky split the regular-season series against the Lynx, beating them by 16 and losing by six.

“It’s the playoffs,” Parker said. “We’re not in a series yet. We have nothing to celebrate. Playoffs start when the road team wins a game on a home floor. The playoffs will start or end for us [on Sunday].”

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