Women’s basketball looks to conference play with ‘Mind on 18’ mantra
Dartmouth women's basketball is currently fifth in the Ivy League in 3-pointers scored per game.
The Big Green is the winningest program in Ivy League women’s basketball history, but the last time Dartmouth won an Ivy League championship was 10 years ago, when they raised their 17th championship banner to the rafters of Leede Arena. Now, when you walk into the women’s basketball locker room, or into the coaches’ offices, or simply look at the team’s clothing, you’ll see one recurring mantra: “Mind on 18.”
After being projected to finish last in the Ivy League’s 2017-18 women’s basketball preseason media poll, the Big Green had a remarkable season. They finished in fifth place, one game out of the Ivy League Tournament, where the league’s top four teams compete for the conference title and a bid to the NCAA tournament. This season, the Big Green is slated to finish in sixth place, but, like last season, it is prepared to exceed the poll’s predictions and compete for a bid for the Ivy League tournament.
“I love when we’re at the bottom of the Ivy League standings preseason, because you’re the underdog,” said Isalys Quinones ’19, a co-captain of this year’s team. “You can shock people because people are expecting you not to do well. You can really shock ’em.”
The Big Green, currently 7-6 after non-conference play, will have its first opportunity to prove itself in the Ivy League this Saturday, when it takes on Harvard University in Cambridge. Harvard, also standing at 7-6 after non-conference play, finished third in the Ivy League last season, continuing their streak of 12 consecutive finishes in the league’s top three teams. The Crimson have four of their five leading scorers back from last season, including unanimous first team All-Ivy guard Katie Benzan and second team All-Ivy forward Jeannie Boehm.
Like Dartmouth, Harvard has a small team, with just five players on their roster of 15 standing 6 feet or taller. With that said, the Big Green expects to see a style of play similar to their own when they take on the Crimson twice in a row for its first two games of Ivy play.
“Harvard is a very similar team to us,” Quinones said. “They have a little bit more post play than we do, but they can shoot it just as well as we can, and their posts can play just as well as we can, so that’s a team that can win any night. That’s a team that we need to lock up.”
In the 2017-18 season, the Big Green led the 3-point oriented Ivy League in 3-point field goal percentage and came in second in 3-point defense. This year’s team will draw on its success from behind the arc, as well as a new up-tempo style of play to surprise the Ivy League and try to finish in the top four. This year, the Big Green has defended with a full court press each game and has run an up-tempo offense, pushing the ball in transition to get easy buckets.
“We want to play up-tempo, fast-paced basketball, we want to score in the 70s, and we want to press and turn our opponents over so we can earn more possessions per game and just play hard, and play really gritty,” said head coach Belle Koclanes. “We want our opponents not to look forward to playing us, because they know they’re going to have to navigate pressing and trapping and pressure.”
According to Koclanes, this style of play is one that nobody else in the Ivy League is using right now. Nevertheless, each team in the conference poses a unique challenge. The University of Pennsylvania or Princeton University has sat atop the Ivy League each season since the Big Green’s 2008-09 Ivy League championship run, and will likely be the Big Green’s biggest challenges this season, along with Harvard. These three teams each sit in the top 100 of the NCAA Division 1 RPI rankings.
Princeton is led by reigning Ivy League Player of the Year Bella Alarie, who, despite sitting out nine games due to an injury early this season, is the Tigers’ third-leading scorer. Penn returns last year’s unanimous Ivy League Rookie of the Year winner and second-team All-Ivy honoree Eleah Parker.
The Big Green will counter Alarie and Parker, along with the conference’s other dominant players, with its own biggest threats. This year, the Big Green is led by Quinones and point guards Cy Lippold ’19 and Annie McKenna ’20. The trio paces the team in points and assists. Even given the Big Green’s promising lineup and prevailing powerhouses in Princeton, Penn and Harvard, Koclanes and her team won’t take any opponent for granted.
“Every team is extremely well coached and well prepared,” Koclanes said. “It’s really one through eight ... there’s no gimmes in our conference whatsoever, so you have to take it one at a time.”
The Big Green have had ample time to prepare for their conference opponents, as they are now nearing the end of a 20 day stretch without playing a game. In this time, the team has honed the skills and sets that were successful in non-conference play and scrapped what didn’t. According to Koclanes, the Big Green will hold on to its up-tempo, full court press strategy. In their three-week dry stretch, the Green and White has been practicing different twists on its press and looking for ways to surprise opponents. The team has also worked on defending the 3-point line, which will be a crucial to success in Ivy play.
“The Ivy League definitely has some good 3-point threats, and guarding the 3-point line will definitely be a key factor,” said McKenna, the Big Green’s third-leading scorer. “You can go down the line. I think all of [the teams in the league] really can be a threat and hit the three.”
The high level of play isn’t the only thing that makes the Ivy League competitive. According to Koclanes, any team in the Ivy League can will itself to victory on any given night.
“There’s so much tradition and there’s so much pride, regardless of the year, regardless of the style of play, regardless of anything, there’s so much tradition and pride in the Ivy League that you know every single game is going to be a battle, and it’s going to be extremely competitive,” Koclanes said.
However, she believes that there is a predictable pattern in the teams that qualify for the Ivy League tournament each season.
“The team that is the most fit, the team that has the strongest bench, the team that stays the most focused, are typically the teams that are going to earn those top four spots,” she said.
With a team that has talent, depth and its minds on an 18th Ivy League championship, the Big Green believes this could be the year it makes an appearance in the Ivy League Tournament.
“You can really feel in the atmosphere that we’re all really excited for the Ivy League and this upcoming season, we’re super excited for next weekend and Harvard, and we’re super pumped to get back into these games and compete,” McKenna said.