Women’s basketball wraps up fourth-place season

by Ashley DuPuis | 3/6/16 6:30pm

Women's basketball ends its season in fourth place.

As the women’s basketball program wraps up the 2015-16 season, the team’s outlook is optimistic despite the impending loss of two dominant players, seniors Lakin Roland ’16 and Daisy Jordan ’16. The program has had its ups and downs over the past few seasons — its consistent year-to-year improvement, however, looks to continue under new emerging players and the continued efforts of the coaching staff. The current season marks Belle Koclanes’ third year as head coach. Her tenure has seen the team go from last place in the 2013-14 season to sixth place last season. This year, the team finished fourth place in the league with a record of 7-7. This finish is the team’s best since the 2008-09 season in which the Big Green took home the Ivy title.

The team took the floor this past weekend for the final time this season, losing to the University of Pennsylvania 65-50 and Princeton University 68-42.

The season kicked off to a rough start, with four straight losses for the Big Green. In an article published earlier this year by the Valley News, athletic director Harry Sheehy spoke on the mediocre record of the team — 5-11 at the time — saying that one of the team’s key problems was its lack of offensive threats. This has been a struggle the team has battled for a number of seasons. By the final buzzer, Dartmouth’s stats always showed only a few players contributing the majority of the points. This became especially problematic during the current season when one of these offensive threats, Fanni Szabo ’17, went out in December with an injury.

The season looked grim when the team fell against Harvard University at home 56-43 on Jan. 9. In the game only Roland broke double digits with 21 points. The next highest point total came from Andi Norman ’18 with eight points, while the rest of the team scored anywhere between zero and four. However, before the team could be discounted, it mounted a comeback two weeks later at Cambridge to beat the Crimson 70-64. The team as a whole raised their contributions, with Katie Letkewicz ’18 scoring a game high 26 points. The trend continued into the team’s next game, an overtime victory over Columbia University.

“We’ve figured out what it takes to win,” Roland said. “We know it’s not going to be one person, and we understand that in the Ivy League anything can happen. It’s not who won last year or earlier this season, it’s who plays well that night.”

Roland also chalked up the team’s improvement to greater confidence, and outside time put in to attain visible results.

The last half of the season has seen the clear emergence of players such as Letkewicz and Amber Mixon ’18, who will be crucial looking towards next season. The loss of Roland, who still accounts for a substantial amount of the Big Green’s points, will be mitigated by a greater team threat and deep bench, something that the team will look to secure in the coming months with recruitment. Sheehy said in early January that next year’s class will be crucial for the future of the program.

The women’s basketball program has had a storied history that the current members look to recapture. Before Koclanes was hired, Chris Wielgus led the program for a total 28 years. Wielgus was a Dartmouth legend in her own right, building the program into a formidable powerhouse in Ivy League basketball. Under her tenure as head coach, the Big Green captured 12 Ivy League titles and 393 victories. However, even under Wielgus the program reached a plateau. After winning a share of four Ivy League titles between 2005 and 2009, the program finished fifth in the following season, its worst standing since 1992-93. Moreover, Wielgus’s last three years as head coach saw the team experience some of its worst Ivy play.

“Change is rough, but it is also opportunity,” Sheehy said in an interview on the coaching transition. “I’m excited to see the growth. I’m really excited to see where we will go and to watch our players gain confidence.”

Koclanes is trying to return the program to its winning tradition. Under her coaching, the team has adopted the phrase “mind on 18” in reference to moving the program towards its 18th Ivy League championship. Koclanes has also built the program around the core values of RAP — respect, attitude and preparation to unite the team. The young coaching staff has emphasized leadership development. Koclanes has embedded the concept of “servant leadership” into the team’s culture, which emphasizes leadership through action, not position.

Koclanes efforts will be aided by the recent $2 million endowment of the head coaching position from former player Gail Koziara Boudreaux ’82.

“Our culture has been restructured,” Roland said. “That’s a big piece. We really are building a championship culture here. We have a stronger team, on and off the court, we are getting higher level recruitment, and we are making a statement in the league.”

Most players are quick to point to the team atmosphere as one of it’s primary strengths, and one that all hope to continue to build on. Sheehy cites the team’s passion, closeness and dedication as its key tenets.

“It’s definitely a really supportive and positive environment,” Szabo said. “We always think about losses as learning experiences, so it’s really a comfortable environment to play in. It still challenges you every single day, but it also inspires you to keep going through tough times.”