Mercury

Nygaard to Usher New Era for Phoenix

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The Phoenix Mercury announced on Monday afternoon that their new head coach will be Vanessa Nygaard.

Nygaard was born in Scottsdale, just 25 miles from Phoenix. The 46-year-old was recently coaching at Windward School, an elite high school program in California where she was the Program Lead for girls basketball.

She’s a Stanford graduate, where she played from 1993-1998 making three Final Four appearances. Vanessa played for four different WNBA teams during her WNBA career. The Cleveland Rockers, Portland Fire, Miami Sol and New York Liberty. She was originally drafted by the Liberty 39th overall in the 1998 draft.

A New Face in a new Place

Nygaard will usher in a new era after being named the 10th head coach in franchise history. Inheriting a team that is coming off of a WNBA Finals appearance. She’s now the sixth WNBA head coach currently in the league who has experience as a WNBA player. With this hire, half of the head coaching positions in the league are now occupied by former players.

Her coaching journey started in 2003 with stints at Long Beach State and Pepperdine, then continuing with the WNBA. She was on the San Antonio Stars coaching staff in 2008, then came back in 2021 and joined Bill Laimbeer‘s staff as an assistant for the Las Vegas Aces.

Nygaard had been committed to USA Basketball youth activities at the 2017 FIBA Americas U16 Championships and the 2018 FIBA U17 World Cup, working with major prospects like Paige Bueckers, Azzi Fudd.

The Nygaard Era begins

Nygaard seems eager to get to work and is ready for her new challenge.

“This is an organization that has set the standard on and off the court in the WNBA for 25 years. When I looked at the commitment to winning here, the resources from ownership, the partnership with the Suns, and the roster in place, I knew this was where I wanted to be. The goal here is to win championships, and I look forward to getting this team back to the top of the WNBA mountain.” – said Nygaard in the official Mercury’s presentation statement.

There, she pointed out the dual objective Phoenix has: trying to launch another championship run, pushing the momentum gained last season, and simultaneously building something to remain competitive in the future. Diana Taurasi showed she still wants to compete last season, the franchise owes her the chance to fight for another ring.

In addition, coach Nygaard attended the last Phoenix Suns game on her first day in the organization. She has expressed positive thoughts about the collaboration with the men’s team.

As previously stated, Nygaard’s recent work was with the Aces in 2021. Judging her impact on a team based on a one-season-sample in the most unique system in the league is difficult. Laimbeer ran a strict, old-fashioned, bigs-centric style of game in Vegas. Nygaard will inherit another dominant big in Brittney Griner, who is coming off the best post-season of her career (recording career highs in points and rebounds per game), like she had last year with Aja Wilson and Liz Cambage. Aces were the team with the highest post-up frequency in the league (19,3% of usage, per InStat), so Nygaard has already experienced a kind of playstyle which can use Griner as an anchor.

After all, Phoenix was a step away from the title in 2021, so Nygaard’s work has to go this direction. Managing the health of their locker room will be a key part of Phoenix’s season in 2022.

Everybody still has in mind the memory of Taurasi breaking a door after the loss in the Finals. It’s true that coaching Taurasi is something she couldn’t ever dream of, like she affirmed, but it may not be that easy for Nygaard to manage the team and DT at the age of 40.

About Gaetano Gorgone

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