Rachel Blount
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As Cheryl Reeve prepared to strike a pose in front of a white paper background, a photographer's assistant handed her the ultimate prop. The Lynx coach cradled the WNBA championship trophy in her arms and asked, "Do you want me to look at it?"

That idea delighted a wall of TV and still photographers, part of the mob covering the Lynx's media day last week. Reeve took her time gazing at the silver basketball, partly for their benefit and partly for hers. The players and coaches have spent the past six months relishing the sweep of Atlanta that brought the franchise its first league title. After media day, Reeve declared, that would officially be consigned to the past.

Not that she didn't want it to go on forever. Reeve said she savored a winter in which strangers and acquaintances alike thanked her and the Lynx for delivering the state its first major pro sports championship in 20 years. Those same folks also offered her constant reminders that the stakes have now risen, with every word of congratulations followed immediately by talk of a repeat.

That hasn't been done in 10 years, since the Los Angeles Sparks won WNBA titles in 2001 and 2002. And it can't be done, Reeve said, without turning the page on last season and welcoming a fresh and distinct chapter.

"2011 was amazing," said Reeve, a Minneapolis resident who enjoyed seeing the community's joyful embrace of her team. "No one can ever take that away from us. But we can't try to re-create what we had last year.

"The first step, once [media day] is done, is not to listen to all the people telling you how wonderful you are. As soon as you think you've arrived, that's when you get knocked off. 2012 is going to be a new journey, a different journey, but the goal is the same: to win a championship."

A larger-than-usual media horde packed into the practice gym for media day, evidence of the lively bandwagon that championships typically spawn. A swell of new season-ticket buyers have jumped on board. The May 20 home opener against Phoenix will be shown on ABC (Ch. 5), as the warmup act for an NBA playoff game.

Because the Lynx return all their major players from last season, plenty of fans will expect them to follow exactly the same path to the finals. Reeve knows the perils of that kind of thinking. Her experiences as an assistant have taught her no two seasons are alike, and that the Lynx must be prepared to adapt in order to keep moving forward.

The basics, she said, will remain intact. Reeve expects the Lynx to be a fundamentally sound and selfless team, and they will adhere to a season-long road map that should keep them on task. To put themselves in position to repeat, they will strive to win their home games, earn the best record in the Western Conference and clinch home-court advantage for the conference playoffs.

But the Lynx cannot hope to do that by remaining static. Reeve noted that in preseason meetings, every player expressed a desire to improve certain facets of her game and set goals to do so. She expects that focus on individual progress to provide plenty of day-to-day motivation, complementing the collective drive to win back-to-back titles.

"There's still an element of being hungry," Reeve said. "They really want to be the first repeat champions in 10 years. And one of the great things about this group is how incredibly mature they are.

"Taj [McWilliams-Franklin] has been in the situation of trying to repeat. Lindsay [Whalen] understands what it's like to try and get back to the finals. Maya [Moore] has played on back-to-back championship teams. We're fortunate to have a group that gets it, that understands the task. And the ones who don't, we'll be in their ears."

Reeve has been in this situation, too. As an assistant with the Detroit Shock, she won a WNBA title in 2006, lost a hard-fought, five-game series to Phoenix in the 2007 finals and won another championship in 2008.

She understands as well as anyone that the magic the Lynx conjured in 2011 is profoundly difficult to recapture. During the winter, Reeve soaked it all up in great detail, watching replays of the games and experiencing the championship run in greater depth than she was able to absorb as it unfolded.

Now she is ready to store it away in memory, replaced by the anticipation of what might happen next. "It never gets old when you're introduced as the 2011 WNBA champions," Reeve said. "But that's in the books. It's time to see what 2012 is going to bring."

Rachel Blount • rblount@startribune.com