Women’s basketball ends non-conference play

by Alexander Agadjanian | 1/3/16 9:12pm

On the back of a significant improvement in the 2014-15 season — including a nine-win increase and avoiding a losing season for the first time in six years —the women’s basketball team entered their current campaign with an optimistic outlook.

Preseason and out-of-conference bouts, however, put a damper on those prospects so far, as Dartmouth has gone 5-11 and lost by an average scoring margin of 6.2 points per game. Nevertheless, with a key Ivy League opener at home against Harvard University looming on Saturday, the true defining point for the Big Green in the 2015-16 season begins once the conference games do.

“I think we’ve been preparing for the Ivy League since we started playing games,” forward Lakin Roland ‘16 said as her team inches closer to the greater challenges of the season. “All the games that we played, starting with Drexel [University], that was [all preparation].”

To commence the new season, Dartmouth participated in the preseason Women’s National Invitation Tournament, playing against Drexel University in its first game. After trailing only 12-9 after the first quarter, the Dragons began to pull away thereafter and an eight-point fourth quarter advantage wasn’t nearly enough as the Big Green fell 69-53.

Head coach Belle Koclanes felt that the game against Drexel, along with ones against later WNIT opponents, benefited the team in terms of the tough competition and diverse styles of play it faced. The Ivy League does not hold a postseason tournament, Koclanes said. She noted that this made the experience of partaking in tourney-style basketball before the season even more worthwhile.

A few days later, the team returned to Hanover for the home opener to face the University of New Hampshire. Extending its lead in each of the first three quarters and staying on the top side of the scoreboard for all but three minutes and 26 seconds of the total 40 minutes of play, Dartmouth faltered in the final quarter, as the visitors closed the final seven minutes of the game on a 18-7 run to edge out a 61-57 win.

A return to WNIT play in the consolation bracket brought two more losses, but the Big Green snapped the losing streak after returning home to face Boston University. Springing out to a 29-10 lead after just a quarter of play, Dartmouth never looked back after its opening surge en route to a 72-52 win.

The team enjoyed several sources of offensive production, as Roland, guard Kate Letkewicz ’18, and center Olivia Smith ’18 fueled the strong start all finished with at least 12 points,. Letkewicz, in particular, caught fire from deep, draining four of seven three-point attempts.

The sophomore has represented the team’s most potent deep ball threat, leading the squad in total three’s by a wide margin and averaging just about two made per game. Moreover, Letkewicz has undertaken a greater offensive workload, seeing a 2.7 to 10.1 points per game jump from her freshman year and leading the team in 36.4 minutes played per game, an increased responsibility she has thus far fulfilled well.

“Personally, [my offensive role] definitely changed [from last year],” Letkewicz said. “Coach Belle kind of gave me the green light to score more. Last year we lost [Milica Toskovic ’15] and Tia [Dawson ’15], and they both had an offensive presence. So my role has definitely changed, I’m looking to score more.”

Roland, on the other hand, has been an offensive mainstay in her role as senior leader, topping the team in points per game (14.4) and rebounds per game (8.0), as well as posting the sharpest field goal percentage (.391) among players with responsibilities both inside and outside of the paint.

Yet just as the team found some footing in the new season, it proceeded to drop four consecutive games. The tail end of that stretch marked the only competitive contest. After leading for a good majority of the day, Dartmouth let victory slip out of its hands in losing to Vermont 56-54 in devastating fashion. Further inundating the Big Green under .500, the loss, however, did not deter the team from finishing the preseason on a high note—namely, going 4-3 over the last seven games. In a low-scoring, tight affair at University of Hartford, Dartmouth followed double-digit scoring efforts from seniors Roland and center Daisy Jordan ’16 to edge out a 43-36 victory.

A few games later, the team returned to its home Leede Arena to face a one-win Niagara University team. Needing to stave off a few opposing runs and buoyed by a .460 team-wide shooting percentage — far exceeding the team’s .364 mark for the year — the Big Green managed to pull away in the final quarter to secure a 60-47 win.

Notably, junior guard Fanni Szabo ’17 — who has experienced a dropoff in offensive production from the previous season — led the team with 15 points on an efficient .500 shooting, with both marks well above her season average.

Koclanes noted that the junior actually started the season playing for the Hungarian national team — causing her to miss the two early season games — and has been hampered as of late by a nagging foot injury. Koclanes, however, said she expects Szabo to be ready and in full form as the begins the Ivy League season.

In the three contests that followed, the team nabbed two more victories, making for a 3-1 closure to the preseason. Though the team fell behind early in the first quarter to the college of the Holy Cross, a strong third quarter effort that saw a nine-point swing Dartmouth’s way ensured a 60-54 win, driven by a strong 36-22 rebound margin and Roland’s season-high 24 points.

Against the New Jersey Institute of Technology on New Year’s Eve, the Big Green possessed as much as a 17-point lead at one point, which was cut to four with 27 seconds left, before the team closed out a 46-39 victory.

“Something that we definitely do when we’re winning is we’re playing really well as a team and everyone contributes, everyone sees shots,” Letkewicz said when discussing what has characterized her team’s successes this season. “[When] everyone’s contributing whether they’re on the bench or on the floor is when we get wins.”

Among the three losses during this stronger stretch of the season for the team, all were close games with two being four-point losses. There was one understandable exception — a 94-52 loss to the University of Louisville, a powerhouse in women’s college basketball in recent years. The loss came despite the Big Green playing the Cardinals close early on in the game.

With its preseason schedule wrapped up, Dartmouth will now enter the Ivy League season head on in welcoming conference rival Harvard to Hanover this Saturday night. The Big Green will likely not forget the way this matchup unfolded last year, when after leading the Crimson for the first 39 of 40 minutes of play, the visitors rattled off a 12-2 run in the final one and a half minutes to stunningly defeat Dartmouth 75-69. The loss seemingly exacted an additional toll on the team, as the Big Green lost five straight Ivy games thereafter.

Koclanes said that a game like that is one both coaches and players never forget, and indicated it would provide extra motivation to start the conference season with success.