Returning four starters, women's hoops hyped to win

by Jennifer Yu | 11/16/04 6:00am

Pundits have recently picked Dartmouth's women's basketball team to win the Ancient Eight in the Ivy League Media preseason poll.

Capturing nine of the 16 first-place votes and tallying a total of 114 points, the ladies in green took the top spot in the League. Harvard trailed the Big Green with four first-place votes and 107 points, while defending league champion Penn took third place with 99 points and a pair of votes. Brown came in at fourth, followed by Yale, Columbia, Princeton and Cornell.

Dartmouth also earned a spot in Charlie Crme's top 64 Women's College Basketball teams for ESPN, coming in at No. 61 and being the only member of the Ivy League to make the list.

The Big Green's head coach, Chris Wielgus, who returns for her 20th season with the team, said she has "been in the league long enough to know that the race is wide open every year and anyone can beat anyone else." She added, "The only poll that matters is the one at the end of the season."

Wielgus, who boasts a 312-222 overall record in her 20 years as a head coach, is joined by assistant coaches Chris Leazier and Courtney Banghart.

Dartmouth ended the 2003-2004 season with a 15-12 record and finished fourth in the Ancient Eight.

The Big Green welcomes back eight veteran players, including four starters that earned postseason recognition from the league. The quartet is center Elise Morrison '07, shooting guard Jean Cullen '06, point guard Angie Soriaga '06 and forward Ashley Taylor '07. The team welcomes three first-year players to the team.

Morrison, who hails from Franklin, Mich., led the team in scoring, rebounding, blocked shots and field goal percentage and was ranked in the top five in the Ivy League in all of these categories. She was named Ivy League Rookie of the Year by a unanimous vote of the eight Ivy League coaches and made the All-Ivy second team.

Cullen ranked second on the team in scoring but led the league in three-pointers with 82. Her three-point field goal percentage of .429 was a new Dartmouth season record. Cullen joined Morrison on the All-Ivy second team.

Soriaga ranked third in assists in the Ivy League with 106 and was a steady contributor at point. She earned All-Ivy honorable mention at the end of the season.

Taylor led the Ivy League in free throw percentage with a .822 accuracy from the line and finished the season as the fourth-best scorer and with the second most assists on the team. She also earned a spot on the All-Rookie team.

Soriaga said, "Our main goal of the season is to win Ivies. The end of last season, (a four-game losing streak), left us with a very sour feeling, so we're highly motivated to do well this year. We've lost some great leaders, but we are a talented group and if we just work hard, with dedication and consistency, we can go far."

In addition to the quartet, the team is made up of Kristen Craft '08, Whitney Cunningham '07, Frannie Kalich '08, Fatima Kamara '07, Shannon O'Donnell '06, Krista Perry '06 and Sydney Scott '08, whose presences contributed to the success of the Dartmouth squad.

In the friendly exhibition opener for Dartmouth, the women dominated Spartak Moscow 97-85 on Nov. 6 at Leede Arena.

The exhibition game was, according to Cullen, "a good test to see where we are right now." She felt that "[the team] played well but still have things to work on. We are focusing on increasing our defensive pressure."

In the game against the Spartak Moscow, Cullen led the team and finished the game with 26 points, including seven three-pointers. Taylor, Morrison and Soriaga all recorded scores in the double digits. Taylor, who played a strong first half, finished with 23 points. Morrison played solidly in the interior and had 19 points while Soriaga recorded 18 points.

The Big Green daunted Spartak in the opening minutes of the game, scoring the first eight points and holding an early 11-2 lead. However, the visitors from Russia rebounded and led 24-17 halfway through the first half. At the break, Spartak guided the game 43-40.

In the second half of the game, Dartmouth recovered from a three-point deficit and went on to lead 57-42 in the period. At 14:47, Cullen's three-pointer advanced the Big Green to a 60-53 lead. The Lady Green eventually went on to finish with a 12 point victory.

Head coach Wielgus made use of all 11 players on the team and saw significant contributions from Perry and Scott.

The Big Green will open its 2004-2005 season on Friday, Nov. 19, against UNH and proceed to host Fordham in Leede Arena on Tuesday, Nov. 23.