May 23, 2024 

Seattle Storm’s vision for 2024 comes into focus in front of record crowd

Pieces come together for Seattle as Loyd finds her shot, Ogwumike returns from injury and Mühl debuts

SEATTLE — The largest crowd for a WNBA game since 2018 showed up on Wednesday night to watch the Seattle Storm host rookie Caitlin Clark and the Indiana Fever. The sellout crowd of 18,343 fans set a franchise record for attendance. Even though there was a healthy contingent of Clark fans, most of the crowd was all in for the home team, helping the Storm to their second win of the season.

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“It was nice to have that atmosphere here. We definitely needed it and used it to our advantage for sure, but our Storm fans always come out and support us and so we definitely appreciate it,” star guard Jewell Loyd told reporters postgame.

The Clark effect is real, but Seattle has long had one of the largest and most dedicated fan bases in the league. Former WNBA MVP Nneka Ogwumike noticed it even before she joined the Storm this offseason. Playing for the Los Angeles Sparks against the Storm in the last game of the 2023 regular season, Ogwumike was confused because the crowd was big and engaged despite both LA and Seattle already being out of playoff contention.

“That type of atmosphere in Seattle … was a big part of why I was excited to come,” Ogwumike told reporters postgame, “just because of the the dedication and the intensity of the people that follow us. And, I mean, it was fun playing in front of that crowd today.”

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Clark, no stranger to massive crowds as a collegian at Iowa, was also impressed by the sea of fans inside Climate Pledge Arena.

“It was pretty incredible. That crowd and the environment was great,” Clark told reporters. “Obviously, I would have loved if we would have won, but I hope these fans continue to still show up for Seattle. They’ve got a great team. And hopefully when we come back here, they’ll be here.

“It’s so fun playing in front of those environments, whether they’re screaming when you’re trying to make pressure free throws at the end of [the] game or whether they’re cheering for you. Those are the environments that we want to play in across the league.”

In front of all those fans, Seattle found the formula for how it wants to play this season, getting efficient nights from Ogwumike and Loyd and a new contribution from a rookie in an 85-83 win.

Ogwumike’s steady stardom

Basketball fans have known how talented Ogwumike is since she was drafted No. 1 overall in 2012. But through her first three games with the Storm, a team filled with stars this season, Ogwumike has been the best player.

Just as Ogwumike showed no signs of rust to start the season, she showed no signs of struggling on Wednesday after missing the two previous games with an ankle injury. Ogwumike scored 20 and 24 points to start the season, with nine and 11 rebounds, respectively. On Wednesday, the power forward scored 22 points and added nine rebounds.

Not only are the scoring numbers high, but they have come very efficiently, as Ogwumike has converted more than 60% of her shots this season.

“My teammates really give me confidence,” Ogwumike said. “Today was one of those days where I knew I had to push through some things, and I just pride myself on being efficient in every way, being aggressive in everything that I do [and] trying to communicate. And so I just want to continue to do that on a very consistent basis. That’s just the name of my game.”

The Storm’s motto this year is “dangerously disciplined,” and head coach Noelle Quinn said it came entirely from Ogwumike.

“It’s not just a motto; it is a mindset. It is a way of living, and she lives and breathes that. So what you’re seeing is a testament to the work,” Quinn said.

Quinn continued, “She leads in a selfless way. She goes into the game trying to play her hardest and give us her all. And so yeah, she’s been amazing to start the season. … She’s mindful of being a great teammate, getting to next actions, setting the screen [and] defensively talking. … We’re seeing some greatness from her, and we got to bottle this up.”

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Nika Mühl debuts, finally

Fans have been waiting to see Croatian guard Nika Mühl play for the Storm in a regular-season game since she was drafted with the No. 14 overall pick in April. She was expected to play important minutes at point guard to spell veteran Skylar Diggins-Smith.

A wrench was thrown in this plan when Mühl was unavailable for the season opener as she awaited visa approval. With four games within the first week of play, unfortunate scheduling meant Mühl missed several games.

But after The Next’s Howard Megdal reported that Mühl would be available for Wednesday’s game, fans started to get excited again.

Though the whole ordeal was a little frustrating at times, Mühl is thankful for the experience and put a positive spin on it.

“I learned a lot from the sidelines,” Mühl told reporters after her debut. “I [tried] to be loud. I [tried] to look at the game from a different perspective for a little bit, which was really helpful for me as a rookie.”

Nothing out of the ordinary delayed the visa process, Mühl said, just a governmental requirement that was out of the Storm’s control. She thanked everyone in the organization “because they worked their butt off to get me that visa.”

The UConn product wanted to make something funny out of the situation, so she celebrated the moment with a family-designed game day outfit. The feature piece was a T-shirt designed by her graphic designer dad depicting her approved visa. Her mom helped with the styling to make the full look a “family product.” The look was ready in time because, as Mühl pointed out, “the shirt was printed faster than the visa.”

One of the loudest cheers of the night came when Mühl checked into the game for the first time in the third quarter. Loyd laughed after the game as she recalled how Mühl was trying to tell her teammates the play, but they couldn’t hear anything over the roar of the crowd.

The moment was surreal for Mühl, who never used to imagine herself playing in the WNBA. At the same time, she now trusts her work and trusts that she deserves to be here.

It is not often you see a second-round draft pick get a standing ovation when they make their debut, but Storm fans love their new point guard and Mühl loves them back.

“I love being here. I love Seattle,” Mühl said. “I love my teammates and my coaches, and I love the program and the history and what it brings. And these fans, I love them the most of everything. They bring the energy; they bring it all the time. I felt the love the first day that I came here, so definitely a great atmosphere to be in. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.”

Mühl wants fans to know that she is thankful for their support and appreciates them. Fans can expect this season that she will “just be myself and work hard and grow and learn — and there’s gonna be ups and downs, and that’s OK.”

Though Mühl only played two minutes and 39 seconds, she was thrown into the fire and was solid. Acknowleding the tough situtation she was in, Quinn praised the debutant for her physicality, poise, confidence, two rebounds and willingness to take an open 3-point shot (even though it didn’t fall).

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Loyd finds her groove

Even if fans were partly at Climate Pledge Arena to see Clark, the 2024 No. 1 overall pick, they were treated to an outstanding show as Loyd returned to the form that saw her lead the league in scoring last season.

Loyd’s 32 points came with relative efficiency, as she hit 12 of her 24 shots, compared with 18 of 76 in her first four games of the season. The shots Loyd hit on Wednesday were ones that she can make but that simply were not falling to start the season.

Loyd, who was also a former No. 1 overall pick, wasn’t sure whether getting to sleep in her own bed and hang out with her dogs is what made the difference with her shot, but she did feel like she was in a better headspace.

“I just kind of cleared my head,” Loyd said. “I just kind of changed my routine a little bit and then just kind of caught a rhythm. I don’t need too much. And then allowing my teammates to kind of guide me in certain ways and tell me what they see helped me a lot.”

Quinn was happy to see her star player find her shooting form, but what impressed her most were Loyd’s rebounding and assist numbers.

Loyd’s 11 rebounds earned her just her sixth career double-double, while the six assists helped her become only the second player in franchise history, following Breanna Stewart, to record at least 30 points, 10 rebounds and five assists in a game.

Quinn has pointed to Loyd’s rebounding numbers in several games this season as evidence of her activity and commitment to rebounding. The head coach also praised Loyd’s ability to make better reads when she is in a groove, earning her those six assists and helping her team be more efficient overall.

Quinn was also happy that new fans got to see Loyd shine on Wednesday.

“She’s been doing this, and so for an opportunity for people to see her in this light and amazing atmosphere go off for 30, with the win,” Quinn said, “hopefully those fans come back and tell their friends to tell their friends and we continue to grow the game that way.”

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While Loyd’s performance stood out, the veteran guard also made sure to point out that it is never about just one player, or even the other team. Rather, she said, “it’s always about us.”

Wednesday showed what the entire team can do together and what its vision is for success. That vision includes being “dangerously disciplined” and led by Loyd and Ogwumike, but getting contributions from young players like Mühl as well. The Storm believe that that formula can help them compete with anyone in the league.

Written by Bella Munson

Bella has been a contributor for The Next since September 2023 and is the site's Seattle Storm beat reporter. She also writes for The Equalizer while completing her Journalism & Public Interest Communication degree at the University of Washington.

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