Tuesday, April 20th, 2021

Washington’s LaToya Sanders ready to enter season full throttle

Published on May 23, 2019


WASHINGTON – While Washington Mystics players participated in interviews and photo sessions for news outlets during media day earlier this month, forward LaToya Sanders towered over team assistants in Washington’s new home, the Entertainment and Sports Arena in Congress Heights.

“I’m going to miss Capital One [Arena],” Sanders reminisced as her long braids flowed behind her rosy cheeks and high cheekbones. “It’s downtown and stuff like that but I mean…we can’t complain about this place. This place is great.”

She frolicked gleefully to the picture-taking station, but it was more than a happy gallop on new sandy hardwood floors. It was a healthy one. Sanders missed the first six games of the 2018 season with iron deficiency issues. Now refreshed, she can look forward to playing the entirety of the 2019 season.

During team workouts prior to last season, Sanders complained about fatigue and increasing heart rates during weightlifting, layup drills and cool down exercises. It was out of the ordinary for the 12-year veteran to experience such dizziness and drowsiness. She was always on the run. She is a member Turkish national team and spends the offseason playing pro ball in Europe, this past season for Reyer Venezia in Italy.

“You take a couple of days off and you just gotta get back to it,” Sanders explained of the hustle and bustle. “I mean, I’ve been through it. This is my 12th year so it just goes with the territory.”

A checkup with team doctors revealed Sanders’ diagnosis of anemia. Her depleted iron levels, which limited adequate blood levels throughout her body, hindered her normal pace.

“I was just severely depleted when it came to my iron,” Sanders said. “I had no energy whenever we worked out. My heart rate would increase faster than normal. Everybody wears heart monitors but when my heart rate got too high would have to step out for a drill for maybe, about you know, until it calmed down.”

Sanders’ height and efficiency around the rim would have been great additions to the Mystics, though Washington held their own in her absence, finishing 5-1 in the team’s first six games. Sanders found her footing during the midpoint of the season. She shined in the four-game homestand from June 26 to July 5. In a 92-80 win over the Connecticut Sun on June 26, Sanders was the most effective, collecting 18 points and eight rebounds.

Two days later against the New York Liberty, Sanders poured in just eight points and six rebounds. Her final play was the most important for the win column. She set a screen against Liberty forward Tina Charles, creating game-winning space for teammate Elena Delle Donne for a buzzer-beating three in the 80-77 win.

The Phoenix Mercury handled Washington behind Brittney Griner’s 24 points and DeWanna Bonner’s 23, in an 84-74 loss July 30. Sanders was limited to just six points and four points. Washington bounced back with another win over New York 86-67 July 5, where Sanders found success in 14 points and seven rebounds.

She played in 28 games after her bout with anemia until an ankle sprain in game 3 of the finals against the Seattle Storm. She averaged ten points, six rebounds and 86 percent at the free throw line last season.

Clean bills of health are obvious exhales for athletes as they are for mothers. Anemia can also plague pregnancies, a probable future for the 31-year-old down the road with husband Byron Sanders.

“Beyond basketball, I’m a married woman,” Sanders said. “I’ve been married for eight years and I do want kids eventually. It becomes risk factor when all your blood and energy is going to your child. Then what about you?”

In Sanders’ iron deficiency case, the lower levels of oxygen deplete mother and fetus, as the anemic-stricken blood levels become a scarce for two during pregnancy. Pregnant women are encouraged to increase their levels of folic acid, vitamin B12 and iron according to the American Academy of Family Physicians.

Sanders is equipped to handle these issues of motherhood at the cost of just six games last season. Though her anemic diagnosis threw off a smooth start, she ended in an impactful space for Washington where they needed it most. With last season in the rearview mirror, she is ready to perform a full season with energy, leadership and a hunger.

“It feels good,” Sanders said of her health. “I take last year and the discovery of my iron issue as a blessing in disguise. In the long run: I’m feeling better and it’s not just about basketball.”

She has high expectations for herself and the team. She adds onto the Mystics lanky depth while Delle Donne overwhelms opponents with versatility at 6-5.

Belgian phenom Emma Meesseman is back with Washington as well. She took a season-long hiatus and left as one of the most prominent three-point shooters in the WNBA, sharpening her leadership skills while leading the Belgian national team. Sanders hopes Meesseman’s qualities like her experience and cool nature will help glue Washington together as well.

“I think me personally, I’m trying to take more of a leadership role,” Sanders said. “I’ve been playing for a long time so I’m usually the quiet one. I’m trying to be a little more vocal to help the young players out because we’re going to need them, maybe when Emma leaves for a couple of weeks. That’s my main focus this year.”

Washington will see their first action of the season against the Connecticut, Sun May 25 at the Mohegan Sun Arena. The Mystics hosts their first home game against the Atlanta Dream June 1.



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