Basketball teams set their sights on the Ivy League tournament

by Justin Kramer | 10/30/17 2:10am

basketball_paulakutschera
Source: The Dartmouth

All eyes are on The Palestra. For both men’s and women’s basketball, qualifying as one of the top four teams in the Ivy League is the main goal of the upcoming 2017-2018 basketball season because the teams can play in The Palestra, the University of Pennsylvania’s historic venue and home to the 2018 Ivy League Championship Tournament.

“First and foremost, we want to make the Ivy League Tournament,” forward Evan Boudreaux ’19 said. “There’s no reason we can’t do it. To be the first team in [Dartmouth men’s basketball] history to go to the [NCAA] tournament since 1959 is doable, especially with the new [Ivy League] tournament.”

Women’s basketball co-captain Emily Slagle ’18 emphasized the women’s team goal of reaching the Ivy League Tournament, known as “Ivy Madness,” which is now in its second year of existence.

“It provides a really exciting atmosphere, and the time of year is so fun for men’s and women’s basketball,” Slagle said. “The thought to be able to participate in that and potentially upset a No. 1 team is really fun to think about.”

With laser focus coming into the season, each team will look to get back over the .500 hump for the first time since 2009 for the women and 1999 for the men.

After being in the hunt for a bid to the Ivy League Tournament until the final game of the season last year against Princeton University, the men have their hopes high despite ranking seventh in the preseason Ivy League media poll.

“Our main goal is to get to The Palestra obviously,” guard Miles Wright ’18 said. “Once we’re there, make it happen. Get that number one spot and eventually make the NCAA tournament.”

If they have any shot of making it there, Wright is going to need to be a big part of the team on both ends of the floor. A former Ivy League Rookie of the Year, Wright started all 27 games last year, averaging 9.6 points, 4.6 rebounds, and about one assist per game while tying for the team lead in steals with 21. His role will manifest itself both in terms of his personal efforts and how he influences the newer players.

“The better defense I play, the higher the team will go,” Wright said. “Making sure guys are in the right spots, and especially for some of the younger players stepping up, helping them out where they need it.”

A fellow Ivy League Rookie of the Year himself, Boudreaux looks to star again this year and take on more of a leadership role.

“I think a big part of [helping the team] is becoming a more well-rounded leader and getting the guys to buy into the collective concept,” Boudreaux said. “Once we establish our identity, that’s up to me and some of the other upperclassmen to reinforce that and hold guys accountable.”

Boudreaux made the U.S. Basketball Writers Association All-District I team for the second straight year, leading the league with 9.5 rebounds per game and finishing second with 17.5 points per game while averaging a double-double in Ivy League games. Still, Boudreaux is modest about his personal awards.

“The coaches have done a great job structuring the offense so we can play freely and take good shots,” Boudreaux said. “Obviously I would have much rather had winning seasons and team success, but they’re definitely great awards to have.”

The Big Green lose three key players from last year, including starting point guard Mike Fleming ’17, forward Wes Dickinson ’17 and big man Ike Ngwudo ’17, leaving a void for the younger players to fill.

“Will Emery [’20] has a really good shot at playing a big role for us this year,” Boudreaux said. “The sophomore class as a whole is going to be asked to step up a lot. Freshmen are going to have to play too, so it’s going to be interesting in practice; they’ve been getting a lot of minutes and they’ve been playing well.”

The team has four first-years on the roster, two of whom — forwards Chris Knight ’21 and Adrease Jackson ’21 — will rotate in to help ease the loss of Dickinson and Ngwudo. Wright also noted Brendan Barry ’20 as a three-point shooting point guard who should see increased minutes this year. Starting guard Guilien Smith ’19 looks to continue the success he had last year as well.

Looking ahead, Dartmouth has a few games that stand out in the coming season.

“We’re playing on ESPN2 against [the University of] Notre Dame, which I think is going to be a really fun game,” Boudreaux said. “Anytime you play a rivalry game against Harvard [University] or Princeton, those games are going to be really important.”

The team growth has been impressive since the coaching staff, headed by David McLaughlin, took charge prior to last season.

“We’re recruiting higher-level players,” Wright said. “The switch in coaching staff before my junior year was a big help. Those guys are really high level and have really improved the culture of our program.”

McLaughlin’s coaching emphasis has hit home for the team’s veterans, including Wright.

“McLaughlin emphasizes a work culture,” Wright said. “Work hard, work smart, work together. From a more team aspect he focuses on the basics: transition defense, moving the ball, taking care of the ball offensively — all the little things that make great teams great.”

The Big Green, who have been practicing since the very start of October, look to start off strong at Quinnipiac University on Saturday, Nov. 11.

With only starting guard and forward Fanni Szabo ’17 graduating before the 2017-2018 campaign, the women’s basketball team is poised to improve upon last year’s 8-19 record.

“Technically, in terms of our offense and defense, having a lot of returners brings a lot more knowledge for our offense and our system,” guard Kate Letkewicz ’18 said. “I think that really in terms of how we play together and our chemistry on the floor.”

For the team to succeed, they will need lots of help from Letkewicz, who led the team with 6.7 rebounds and 11.2 points per game. Letkewicz is one of four seniors who is primed for a big season on the court.

“We have four seniors who are going to play a major role in this upcoming season,” fifth-year head coach Belle Koclanes said. “For the first time since me and my staff have been here, we have more of a veteran team.”

Besides Slagle and Letkewicz, the other seniors include center Olivia Smith ’18, who started every game last year and finished with 25 blocks, as well as co-captain forward Andi Norman ’18, who shot .370 from beyond the arc last year.

“Another key returner is a junior Isalys Quiñones [’19],” Koclanes said. “[Quiñones] can play pretty much anywhere on the floor. Just a fantastic athlete, very skilled on both ends.”

Quiñones led the team last year with 42 steals and was second with 22 blocks, while adding 9.1 PPG on the offensive end.

Cy Lippold ’19 and Annie McKenna ’20 are both in contention for the starting point guard position.

“They are just battling in practice everyday,” Koclanes said. “They understand the role of the point guard to make everyone else around them better while pushing tempo and attacking urgency. Right now they’re both earning it, so you’ll see both of them out on that floor.”

The incoming class, the smallest since Koclanes has taken the helm, features guard Elle Louie ’21 and post player Anna Luce ’21, both of whom figure to see plenty of time on the court this year. Slagle believes they’ll fit right in.

“[Having an experienced team] makes some of the transitions smoother for our freshmen,” Slagle said. “We’re able to work things out as a team, which makes it a lot easier.”

The team has one unified goal for the coming season.

“Our mission here is ‘Mind on 18,’” Koclanes said. “Any time you spend here with the Dartmouth women’s basketball, you’ll see that, you’ll hear it. Our quest is an 18th Ivy League Championship; we have 17 in our history ... and that’s the third most in collegiate women’s basketball.”

Koclanes believes that if the team sticks to their process, they have a good shot at achieving its goal.

“Everyday it’s about staying true to our process,” Koclanes said. “Our focus as we begin each new day is to be better than we were the day before and to grow each one of our players’ individual skillsets.”

Looking ahead, two non-conference games stand out for the women’s team: state rival University of New Hampshire and University of Vermont, both of whom have won every matchup since Slagle has been here. Dartmouth opens its season against UVM on Friday, Nov. 10.

“In the first home game, it’s the game to start the season off strong and prove to everyone what we’re bringing this year,” Slagle said.

Looking back, Letkewicz is confident that the growth she has seen will translate into success this season.

“Since we came in as freshman, looking back, the growth has been amazing really,” Letkewicz said. “Our program was not the best when we came in — it was a lot of rebuilding, we had a newer coaching staff. We’re working harder than ever before, and we’re all closer than ever before as a team.”