By Seth Dahle
Storm head coach Jenny Boucek has admired Carolyn Swords’ game for quite some time, but always from afar. Whether it was her work ethic, knowledge or efficiency, Boucek wanted her on the roster.
Now, Swords is already making an impact less than a week deep into Seattle’s training camp, and it all starts with her 6-foot-6 frame.
“She has good size,” said Boucek. “She’s got that ‘whatever-it-takes’ mentality. When you have veterans on your team that are top-notch teammates and professionals, it’s a huge asset for a young team. When you have veterans that are modeling what it means to be a mature professional and A+ teammates, it’s like gold.”
And that’s just what Swords does for the Storm – she plays a role that, quite frankly, Seattle missed dearly in 2016. From hauling in critical rebounds in late-game situations to guarding the opponent’s top post player, she is a huge piece in Seattle’s puzzle for a potential WNBA title.
“If I can guard the other team’s center, especially if it’s Sylvia Fowles or Brittney Griner, then that frees up the other post players to do what they do best, to get rebounds on the move and to get down the floor quicker,” said Swords. “Hopefully it will put people more in their comfort zone, and I am excited to see how I can help.”
The Storm upgraded its frontline with Swords in late January, as the team traded its sixth and 18th picks in the 2017 WNBA Draft with Washington to get the Boston College graduate out to Seattle. The Mystics, as part of the three-way swap, sent Kia Vaughn and Bria Hartley to New York. And so far, Swords has embraced the transition from the Big Apple to Seattle.
“I’ve always enjoyed our away games here [in Seattle],” said Swords. “We’re usually on a West-Coast swing, and I’ve had a free day here and there to explore. It’s a beautiful city, and I’m looking forward to being able to explore a little more and enjoy it.”
In her final season with the New York Liberty in 2016, Swords had her best season yet, averaging 5.2 points and 4.6 rebounds per game. She started all 34 games a year ago and shot 57 percent from the floor. At Boston College, she totaled 2,029 points and broke the program’s career rebound record with 1,159.
Boucek said Swords’ work ethic, smarts and value as a teammate were qualities that immediately caught her eye.
“Those qualities have stuck out her whole career,” said Boucek. “You add to that how efficient she is. You’re looking for players, whether they’re you’re number one option or coming off the bench, who are the best versions of themselves and no more or no less, everyday. When you have that consistency and clarity in your players, then it makes the coach’s job a lot easier.”
While Swords’ numbers aren’t necessarily overwhelming, it’s her size and ability to free up other players that will be invaluable to the Storm.
“I hope that, with my size and my length, I can help protect the paint and give some different looks on offense,” said Swords. “I can hopefully free up some players like Breanna Stewart to do what she likes to do. [Langhorne] can be both a ‘4’ and a ‘5,’ and I can allow [Tokashiki] to roam. Hopefully my addition can help on the boards on both ends, and then free people up to do what they like to do.”
Boucek agrees, saying that Swords gives the Storm a “totally different look.”
“When you’ve got somebody that’s able to really take the banging off other players and protect the rim on defense, they can now be free defensively and put pressure on the rim offensively,” said Boucek. “It takes care of an element that frees them up to play to their strengths.”
Last season, Seattle was second to last in the league in rebounding with just over 31 per contest. Swords can immediately fix that problem, but she can also alter shots, battle other post players and knock down the midrange jumper.
While numbers are measurable, it’s Swords’ calm demeanor, maturity and blue-collar skillset that won’t show up in the final box score. Although training camp is just underway, Swords has found a role and said the Storm’s strong finish last season has provided “energy and build-up” going into 2017.
“This team is filled with a lot of talented players, but the biggest thing is that everyone works really well together,” said Swords. “You could see that from the beginning. Everyone’s really focused, so I think those work-ethic pieces are the most important to get farther down the line, and we’re looking forward to having a fun season together.”