Women Ballers are Poised and Balanced Without Seniors
Normally when one previews a team without any seniors returning for the upcoming season, the prognosis is really grim. This would be the case for any other team but the Dartmouth women's basketball team, which has established itself over the past decade as one of the top teams in the Ivy League and New England.
As we speak, the team is 1-0 after dismantling Colgate 82-69 last Saturday in Hamilton, New York. That win, and the method with which it was achieved, should be enough to send shivers down the spine of opposing Ivy League coaches.
The team is comprised of five juniors, three sophomores, and four freshmen; nine players are six feet or taller, and the returning point guard, the smallest of the bunch, is last year's Ivy League free-throw percentage leader. Against Colgate, this player, Keri Downs '03, dropped 30 points on the Raiders, showing that the tall trees in the middle are not the only weapons in Big Green coach Chris Wielgus' arsenal.
"Even though we are big, we have a lot of speed and are working on our fast break game," forward Katie Skelly '03 said.
The team is returning its top three scorers, juniors Kat Hanks, Skelly, and Downs. Hanks is returning first-team All-Ivy performer from last year and the person opposing defenses key in on.
"We have put in a new offense that compliments our roster," Skelly said. "We have a big team this year and are using our inside game to our advantage."
Already this team has outdone last year's start, when it lost its first four games en route to a 1-11 record over its first 12 contests.
What this team has done is use the late-season momentum from winning 11 out of the last 15 games last year to their advantage early this season.
"Things started off slow, but we pulled together and showed how much potential we have," Downs said. "This team wants to win and we put all we have into everything we do."
In order to conquer last year's Ivy champion Penn Quakers, the Big Green will have to continue the play that had them winning 73 percent of their games once Downs, Hanks and Skelly were added to the lineup.
"The Ivy race is always a close one and anyone can come out on top," Downs said.
"I think a couple of wins against some non-league opponents will give us the confidence to do some damage in the Ivies."
The size that Dartmouth possesses is going to be the deciding factor on which their season will rest.
Coming off the bench are three six-foot-plus players (forwards Heather Hanson '03 and Samantha Burnham '04, and guard Courtney Lewis '04) to keep the opposing teams constantly on the shorter end of the scales.
This is why the 30 points scored by Downs against Colgate made her more than just the game's high scorer.
Teams are now going to have to recognize that packing the post and doubling the likes of Hanks and Skelly are going to leave Downs open for jump shots and drive-and-dish opportunities.
A very exciting outlook if Downs can keep the scoring up.
The newcomers to the Dartmouth squad are also an exciting bunch, and should compete for playing time immediately. In the backcourt, Katie Frett and Michelle Strong head up a highly touted class of recruits.
"Katie's an awesome basketball player, someone who can do what she wants when she wants to do it," said Wielgus. "She's not a real stand-still shooter or big threat from three, but she creates and she's very strong."
Joining Frett and Strong in the class of 2005 are forwards Yah Demann and Laura Yasaitis, who will be learning from some of the best the Ivy League has to offer.
"Laura is a very strong, pure center," said Wielgus. "She's a legitimate 6-4 wide-body who can turn, face and shoot from the foul line. She's got a soft touch, but what we really like about her is that she's a real presence inside and is a very good rebounder and a great defender."
The women have a lot going for them, and they'll need it against the likes of Harvard and Penn--despite the fact that the Quakers lost Ivy Player of the Year Diana Caramanico. Harvard still has Hana Peljto, last year's Rookie of the Year, as well has two other members of the All-Ivy teams, Katie Gates (honorable mention) and Tricia Tubridy (All-Rookie team).
This probably makes the Crimson early season favorites. The matchups that count--if talent holds to plan--will be the January 5 game between Dartmouth and Harvard in Boston, and if we're lucky, the March 5 game in Hanover on the last game day of the Ivy League season.