Women’s basketball preps for Ivy play after tough winter break
Annie McKenna ’21, pictured with the ball last season, averaged 13 points per game for Dartmouth in nonconference play.
Women’s basketball has kept busy this winter break, traveling as far as Chicago to play a total of 10 games. The team ended its nonconference schedule with a 6-7 record. Now, the Big Green prepares for important Ivy League games starting with a home game against Harvard University on this Saturday as the team seeks to improve upon its fifth place finish in the Ivy League last year.
The Big Green’s winter break schedule is intentionally challenging in order to prepare it for the Ivy League season. December started off with a 70-58 loss to Manhattan College. Despite coming within three in the fourth quarter, Dartmouth allowed the Jaspers a 16-7 run, earning the Big Green its first loss of the 2019-20 season. Next, the Big Green came up short against a hot undefeated Loyola University Chicago team (61-40) and a strong Northwestern University squad (79-37) before the team stopped its slide with a 57-41 win against the University of Maine. At one point down by 11, the Big Green came alive in the second half and outscored the Black Bears 28-9. Playing nearly the entire game, Annie McKenna ’20 led the team in scoring with 18 points and five assists. Dartmouth benefited from a strong defensive performance including Paula Lenart ’20’s 11 rebounds. Elle Louie ’21 tallied seven points, four assists, four rebounds and four steals and Katie Douglas ’22 secured 10 points.
The Big Green kept the momentum going with a 62-51 win over the University of Massachusetts Lowell, featuring especially strong shooting from beyond the 3-point line. The team’s first home loss of the season came against Texas State University, when a disappointing fourth quarter put the Bobcats 10 points ahead of the Big Green.
However, Dartmouth bounced back with a 66-47 win in the “State Championship” against the University of New Hampshire. Anna Luce ’21 had a strong double-double performance and Douglas tallied 17 points, with McKenna trailing just behind with 14 points.
Next, Boston University capitalized on hot 3-point shooting to deal the Big Green a 74-56 loss. McKenna, Lenart and Luce all scored more than 10 points against the Terriers.
The team returned from holiday break to face the State University of New York at Buffalo in a game that, despite an eventual 73-49 loss, head coach Belle Koclanes thought displayed some of the Big Green’s best basketball.
“Those first three quarters at Buffalo was really fun to watch and fun to coach,” Koclanes said. “It was such a high level and then we ran out of steam in the fourth against an excellent Buffalo team.”
Veronica Kelly ’22 led the team in scoring with 12 points. McKenna had a strong game with 10 points, four rebounds, four assists and four steals. Louie said she felt that the team made strides in team energy and atmosphere during the Buffalo game.
Heading into its most recent game against Loyola, the team focused on bringing that standard of play and energy from the first three quarters of Buffalo consistently. After a close first half, Dartmouth sat only two points behind the Greyhounds. The team started the third quarter strong and built an eight-point lead. However, the tide turned against the Big Green in the middle of the third.
“In both games, we felt that they turned up the pressure,” Louie said.
Loyola distanced itself on a 22-0 run, and the Big Green fell 72-56 in its last game of 2019. McKenna tied her career high of 21 points and added five rebounds. Luce also had a strong game with 10 points, and Asha Taylor ’22 combined nine points with three rebounds. Two of the team’s strongest players and senior leaders, point guard McKenna and stellar rebounder Lenart, ran into foul trouble during the game. Koclanes said she felt that their absence and Loyola’s run was an important lesson heading into conference play. Both Lenart and Louie said they felt like the games were positive indications of the team’s progress despite the losses.
Throughout the break, the Dartmouth women have been consistently honing their skills as a team and as individuals. Koclanes said the team has worked on passing skills and decision-making in order to make the most of its offense. On defense, the Big Green worked on pushing out on defense to prevent 3-point shooting.
“We are definitely working right now on being a tougher team,” Lenart said. “Being more aggressive and not being intimidated by aggressiveness because that’s going to come in the Ivy season.”
Louie echoed this, and said she felt that the biggest lesson of the Buffalo and Loyola losses was to be more aggressive when other teams increase the pressure. She added that the team worked on returning to their fundamentals — particularly ball fakes, pivots and being strong with the ball.
Last year, the Big Green barely missed making the Ivy League tournament with a conference record of 6-8. The team only plays three games in January coming up before heading into the busy back-to-back weekend game schedule that is traditional in the Ivy League.
“We are predicted to be the bottom of the Ivy League, but the mindset right now is to try to change that,” Lenart said. “Not just in terms of the results, but in who we are as players and what we want to bring to the table.”
The Big Green will return to action and begin conference play with a 1 p.m. home game against Harvard this Saturday.