A month's worth of gritty play and a strong team effort earned the women's basketball team continued wins over winter break. With a record of 5-6 entering Ivy League competition on Saturday against the always tough Harvard Crimson, the Big Green looks to showcase its depth and talent in hopes of winning an Ivy League title and thus earn a berth into the NCAA tournament in March.
Following a solid showing at the Seton Hall Tournament, the women's team played at Fordham University Nov. 26. This was a homecoming for Coach Chris Wielgus, who had coached Fordham's team from 1991-1993, and led them to a Patriot League Title in her first season.
The first half went back and forth, as the Big Green jumped to an early nine-point lead, but Dartmouth squandered that advantage with Fordham tying the game at 20 apiece. The Big Green ended in a hole at the end of the half at 30-24, but it was the second half that showcased their toughness and competitive nature as they jumped ahead with a 17-6 run with freshman sensation Elise Morrison '07 scoring 11 points during the stretch.
The game ended superbly with Dartmouth overcoming Fordham 72-55. Sophomore Jeannie Cullen contributed 24 points, including six three-pointers. Hot shooting in the second half was the key to this game as Dartmouth shot 47 percent from the field overall, with a whopping 65 percent from the field in second half and 66 percent from the three-point line.
Dartmouth's win in its home opener against Providence Dec. 2 proved to be historic in many ways. First off, this triumph notched the 300th career win by Coach Wielgus, and her 263rd at Dartmouth. This achievement gained national attention, as Dartmouth students throughout the country found the headline on the front page of the sports section.
This game also was memorable as it was the first time Dartmouth had beaten a Big East school in 20 years, and it had been 23 years since they had done so at home. Morrison finished with 22 points, nine rebounds and seven blocks for the game which, in fact, was tied for the most blocks in a single game throughout the nation.
Dec. 13, the Big Green traveled to Hartford to open up a three game road trip where they lost 45-42 to the Hawks. With the buzzer sounding, Angie Soriaga '06's three-point attempt just bounced off the rim for the heart-wrenching loss.
However it was the initial scoring sorrows that were extremely hard to overcome. The Big Green did not manage to score a bucket for the first nine and a half minutes of play, which led to a 16-point deficit at one point.
Morrison ended with a career high 11 blocks that tied the school record for blocks, which was set by Ilsa Webeck '94 in 1995 against Cornell. Although the offense was a bit off during this game for the Dartmouth women, their defense never looked better as they played solidly throughout the game in limiting their opponents to under 30 percent shooting from the field. It was their defense that kept them in the game.
Next, the Big Green traveled to warmer Florida to play the Miami Hurricanes and Florida International.
The Miami game proved to be rough, considering that Miami is an undefeated team with sharp shooters and very quick players. As a result, the Hurricanes shot out to a 17-7 lead, but once the Dartmouth women's team calmed down, the Big Green was able to trim the lead to a mere six points heading into second half.
However, Miami's play proved to be too much down the stretch, as the Hurricanes went on a tremendous 16-2 run while the Big Green could not connect with the basket for more than five minutes. This gave the Hurricanes a 23-pont lead with under ten minutes remaining, and the game stayed that distant right to the finish.
Miami's shooting prevailed in this game, as they shot 55.6 percent from beyond the arc and 44.6 percent from the field, in comparison to Dartmouth's 30.8 percent from the three-point line and 34 percent from the field. Dartmouth was also plagued by 20 turnovers.
High scorers of the game included Jeannie Cullen '06, who poured in 19 points, and Fatima Kamara '07, who added a solid eight points. Following the Miami game, the Big Green held a 3-3 record on the season.
The Florida International game showed the depth of Dartmouth with four players scoring in double figures, three of which were freshmen, a sign that bodes well for upcoming Ivy League play.
The freshman class strutted its stuff, with Ashley Taylor '07 scoring 18 points, Morrison pouring in 14 points, and Kamara notching 12 points.
Unfortunately, the ladies fell to FIU 80-69. This loss came despite an early 12 point lead and a three point lead at the half. The game remained close throughout, but it was the final surge by FIU that brought the contest from a tied ball game at 42 to a 62-52 FIU lead with 6:41 remaining.
The Big Green was unable to catch up as the Golden Panthers showcased their free throw prowess by hitting 25 of their 28 free throw attempts. Even though Dartmouth outshot FIU from the field and the three-point line, it was the clutch free throws down the stretch that really made a difference in this game.
Next, on the weekend of December 29 and 30, Dartmouth hosted the Blue Sky Restaurant Classic which provided mixed results.
The weekend started off with a shocker against powerhouse Kansas where Dartmouth defeated the Jayhawks in overtime 86-78. Soriaga played a terrific game, finishing with a career-high 24 points, including two clutch free throws to seal the monster win over the Jayhawks. Morrison finished behind Soriaga with 22 points, and Cullen also added 19.
"It was a huge win for us to beat a Big 12 team on our home court," Coach Wielgus said, "but we couldn't have done it without this crowd."
The game started out with a quick Kansas lead, but Dartmouth settled down under the aggressive defense and managed an 8-6 advantage. At the half, the Big Green led by 12 and still held this lead until about four minutes remaining in the second half, when the Jayhawks went on a 12-0 run to tie up the ballgame.
In overtime, it was all Dartmouth, as Cullen hit a couple of free throws and a three-pointer, Morrison hit two layups and senior captain Sam Burnham hit a layup and was fouled. She consequently went on to convert the three-point play by hitting her free throw to give the Big Green a six point advantage. Free throws by Cullen, Soriaga and Taylor sealed the fate of the game, as Dartmouth marched on to victory.
The championship game ended in a Dartmouth loss to UNC-Wilmington by the score of 76-60. Morrison finished with a career high 26 points, and Soriaga finished with 14. Both players were named to the All-Tournament team for the Big Green.
Jan. 2, the Dartmouth women's basketball team faced Siena in New York and lost 68-58. However, Kamara finished with a career-high 18 points in the effort.
The game stayed close throughout, but it was the 16-6 run that the Siena Saints opened in the second half with that spurred the Saints on to victory.
However, the Big Green trounced Iona at home two days later 82-68. All around scoring was showcased yet again as Cullen finished with 27 points, Morrison finished with 20 points and 16 rebounds, and Kamara added 12 points. The Big Green shot an impressive 44.4 percent from the field and an even more astounding 56.3 percent from the three-point line.
This was an impressive finish as Dartmouth enters Ivy League play this Saturday against Harvard. The first half of the season was scheduled such that they would be tested early on by strong and consistent teams, some of which had received votes in the Associated Press Top 25 poll. Coach Wielgus believed that rigorous competition early on would give them the mental poise and toughness necessary for success in the Ivy League.
Already, the Big Green has posted three big upsets against Providence, Fordham and Kansas, and they do not plan on stopping there. With the roughest part of the season out of the way and the Ivy League up and coming, it is clear that the Dartmouth women are ready to show that nothing has been lost from last year and in fact they have the experience to make a serious impact in the Ivy League.