Women's basketball prepares to defend its Ivy League title

| 11/14/08 8:20am
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Brittney Smith '11 was last season's Ivy League Rookie of the Year and was second on the team in scoring.
by Jennie Post / The Dartmouth

Last year the Dartmouth women's basketball team finished in a three-way tie for the Ivy League title. In the first game of the postseason playoff, the Big Green beat rival and perennial Ivy power Harvard.

The team, however, lost its next game to Cornell, finishing one game shy of the NCAA tournament, receiving a National Invitational Tournament bid instead.

In the NIT, the Big Green lost to regional rival University of Vermont.

This year, a media poll projected the team to finish second in the Ivy League, behind Harvard.

"Winning is obviously important," head coach Chris Wielgus said. "But we don't talk about winning in my program. We talk about doing things the right way. If you do things the right way, it's my belief that the winning will take care of itself."

For nearly a quarter of a century, coach Wielgus' philosophy has paid off. Wielgus is entering her 24th season as head coach of the Big Green. Dartmouth has won the Ivy League 11 times during Wielgus' tenure and 16 times ever. The team has won three Ivy League titles in the past four years and has made the postseason four straight times.

This season, however, the Ivy League is much tighter than in years past. Along with fellow titleholders Cornell and Harvard, both Yale and Columbia are expected to compete for number one.

"The Ivy League is very balanced this year," Williams said. "It's up in the air who's going to win. Obviously Harvard is a main rival, and we hope to beat them twice, but there are a lot of other competitive teams out there."

The Big Green will look to leadership from its experienced backcourt of Williams and Koren Schram '09. Last year Williams was fourth on the team in scoring with 8.0 points per game while Schram led the team in scoring with 11.4 points per game and was selected to the All-Ivy first team.

"Koren is one of the most experienced, best players in the league," Wielgus said. "Betsy is also experienced. They will have to lead us, and I have enormous faith in my backcourt. I am very confident in them."

In addition, forward Brittney Smith '11 returns to the starting lineup. Smith was a unanimous pick for the Ivy League Rookie of the Year award last year. She was second on the team in scoring in the 2007-2008 season, behind Schram, averaging 10.7 points per game, and she led the team with 7.7 rebounds per game.

Center and captain Darcy Rose '09 and forward Margaret Smith '10 also return and should see increased playing time this season.

Wielgus hopes the team will get a better start to the season than it did last year. The Big Green started 1-10 last year, as it struggled with its non-conference schedule. This year the beginning of the campaign is no easier, with games against Michigan State University, University of Arkansas and Southern Methodist University. But this year team is more experienced than last year.

"It is tough to start poorly," Wielgus said. "We did play a very tough schedule, and we pushed many of those teams to tough games. It took Marquette a half-court shot to beat us, and we lost to Virginia Tech in overtime. It's good experience because it shows that we can hang with those tough teams."

"This year we're a more veteran team," Williams said. "We play a tough schedule again this year, but I think we'll compete. We have confidence."

The Big Green, despite its poor non-conference record, was 11-3 in Ivy League play and 8-4 at home. The team also finished the season going 14-6 in its last 20 games.

"It's exciting as a coach to watch them grow right before your eyes," Wielgus said. "Each game, each practice they grow as a team."

Williams is confident about the team's chemistry going into the season.

"We've been practicing for two weeks together now, so our chemistry has definitely been growing," she said. "And it's definitely great for the team to play in front of the home crowd when everyone's cheering what you've been practicing together for."

Along with a solid core of returning players, there are a number of freshmen who have impressed Wielgus.

"Expect a really exciting brand of basketball," Wielgus said. "Expect a lot of passion and energy at our games. We'll play hard, win or lose."

Williams echoed her coach's sentiments. "Expect us to do well," she said.

The Big Green kicks off its season this Saturday at the University of Hartford, who is currently favored to win the America East Conference.

The Big Green will play its first home game of the season on Tuesday, Nov. 18 against the Big East's St. John's University. The game is scheduled for 7 p.m. in Leede Arena.

The team has 12 games before its Ivy League schedule begins with a trip to Cambridge to face Harvard on Saturday, Jan. 10.