Ivy League Preview: Women's Basketball

by Joe Clyne | 11/12/14 8:18pm

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The women’s basketball team opens its season this Sunday at Leede Arena against the New Jersey Institute of Technology. To prepare for the season, The Dartmouth has profiled each of the Ivy League’s eight teams for a quick look at the season ahead.

This year, the Ivy League seems broken down into three distinct tiers. The top tier of teams, which should contend for the Ivy crown, consists of the University of Pennsylvania, Princeton University and Harvard University, who topped the Ivy League last year and this year’s preseason poll.

Princeton University, 2013-14: (21-9, 11-3 Ivy)

Last year, the Tigers came within a single game of winning the Ivy League and qualifying for the NCAA Tournament. Fresh off that heartbreak, Princeton seems well-positioned to take the league title this season. The Tigers lost just two seniors from last year’s team and return three of their four leading scorers. The program has dominated recently, winning at least 20 games in each of the last five seasons and winning four of the last five Ivy League titles. Led by last year’s first team all-Ivy selection Blake Dietrick and head coach Courtney Banghart, Princeton seems poised to return to its perch atop the Ivy League.

University of Pennsylvania, 2013-14: (22-7, 12-2 Ivy)

In the final game of last season, the Quakers ended Princeton’s dreams of an Ivy League fivepeat. While Penn still stands as one of the conference’s top teams, the team will face a more difficult climb to a conference championship after the loss of last season’s Ivy League Player of the Year, Alyssa Baron. Last year’s Ivy League Rookie of the Year, Sydney Stipanovich, delivered a remarkable debut performance, tallying 12 points and nearly 4 blocks per game, but will have to deliver an even better performance this year to return the Quakers to the NCAA tournament. The Quakers open their season on the road against perennial women’s basketball powerhouse, the University of Tennessee. If Penn can keep that game within even 20 points, it will be a tremendous omen for the team’s title hopes.

Harvard University, 2013-14: (22-8, 11-3 Ivy)

It is perhaps only in the realm of women’s basketball that you can say that Harvard is perpetually overlooked. The Crimson has finished second or tied for second in the Ivy League in every year since the 2007-2008 season. After finishing in a dead heat with the Princeton Tigers last year, Harvard is looking to reload and finally make the jump to a conference title. Still, it seems as though the Crimson may fall short yet again. Harvard lost its leading scorer, Christine Clark, who averaged 16.5 points per game and had put up double-digit points per game in each of her four years at Harvard. The team will need strong performances at guard, particularly from senior Ali Curtis, if it hopes to jump Princeton and Penn.

The next tier consists of teams not quite good enough to contend for the title, but far from the cellar. Yale University and Cornell University seem likely to finish fourth and fifth in the Ivy League this year, right where they were pegged in the Ivy League preseason poll.

Yale University (13-15, 7-7 Ivy), 2013-14:

If any team can make the jump to the tier of championship contenders, it will be the Yale Bulldogs. Last season’s mediocre record masked a difficult schedule and an occasionally explosive offense that ranked third in the Ivy League. Junior Sarah Halejian finished third in the Ivy League in scoring last year and is the highest scoring returning player across the league. Though the loss of senior Janna Graf will hurt the team, a strong performance from Halejian and a few lucky breaks could propel Yale beyond the middling ranks where preseason pundits have damned the squad.

Cornell University (14-14, 6-8 Ivy), 2013-14:

Cornell stands as the counterpoint to Yale in the Ivy’s muddled middle. Just as the Bulldogs may jump in the rankings, so may the Big Red take a tumble to the status of the cellar dwellers. This year’s iteration of the Big Red features just three upperclassmen, none of whom averaged even eight minutes per game last season. Cornell does return two starters from last year’s team, and Nia Marshall in particular will be called upon to shoulder the load this season. The Big Red had a better point differential than the Bulldogs last season, but head coach Dayna Smith’s team looks to be on the verge of a trying season. Smith’s experience should help form the Big Red into fighters, especially by the end of the season, but that may be too late.

The final tier in the Ancient Eight consists of last season’s weakest teams, Dartmouth, Columbia University and Brown University. None of the teams in this tier won more than four conference games last season.

Dartmouth College, 2013-14:(5-23, 2-12 Ivy)

The Big Green looks poised to take a step forward in the squad’s second season under the tutelage of head coach Belle Koclanes. Last season’s leading scorers for the Big Green, Fanni Szabo ’17 and Lakin Roland ’18, both return this year. Szabo is expected to take a leap forward this season after spending the summer playing for the Hungarian U-20 basketball team. The Big Green had a disappointing season last year and finished with the worst point differential in the entire Ivy League, losing by nearly 14 points per game on average. If the Big Green can replace last year’s starting point guard Nicola Zimmer ’14 while Szabo and Roland take steps forward, Dartmouth should be able to surprise those who discount the team based on last season’s performance.

Brown University, 2013-14: (10-18, 4-10 Ivy)

After finishing sixth in the Ivy League last season, Brown was projected to finish last this year in the conference’s preseason poll. The reasoning behind this ranking seems fairly straightforward. The Bears are losing their leading scorer from last year, Lauren Clarke. Clarke was also the second-leading scorer in the entire Ivy League. However, the Bears may still have the potential to surprise, especially thanks to returning star Sophie Bikofsky. Bikofsky led the NCAA in 3-point shooting percentage last season and finished seventh in the Ivy League in scoring. Bikofsky will have a tougher time finding open shots without Clarke to draw in defenders, but the return of Jordin Alexander from injury could give the Bears another potent scoring threat. Brown seems capable of competing with both Dartmouth and Cornell, especially if Bikofsky can maintain last season’s stunning shooting accuracy.

Columbia University, 2013-14: (6-22, 3-11 Ivy)

Columbia finished seventh in the Ivy League last year and is losing a fair amount of senior talent, including two players who were in the top 25 in the Ivy League for points per game. The team is returning its top two scorers from last year, Tori Oliver and Miwa Tachibana, but neither player was in the Ivy’s top 15 in scoring or had a field goal percentage better than 38 percent. The Lions seem likely to stagnate, though a second year under head coach Stephanie Glance could make a large difference. At this juncture, the Lions appear the probable last-place team in the Ancient Eight.