With five seniors in the starting lineup and an influx of young talent, this year’s women’s basketball team — selected to finish fourth in the Ivy League in the preseason media poll — has exceeded even the loftiest of expectations.
The Red (12-7, 3-3 Ivy) came out of the gates strong, winning four of its first five games, one of the best starts for the program in recent memory.
“At the time, we beat some good teams who were predicted to do well in their respective conferences, and we learned a lot,” said head coach Dayna Smith. “I thought it was a good start for us early, and the non-conference schedule helped us set the tone early for what kind of team we really wanted to be.”
So far this year, the team’s strengths have been its defensive prowess and its ability to push the ball and run. In non-conference play, the Red allowed just 58 points per game and scored over 63 in each contest.
“We have done a very good job this year of being able to run the ball in transition,” said senior guard Megan LeDuc. “A lot of teams in the Ivy League aren’t necessarily prepared for that, and they are not as well conditioned as we are, so we try to use that to our advantage.”
The trio of seniors, Nia Marshall, Kerri Moran and Leduc, lead the team in scoring, all averaging double digits per game.
Along with her team-leading 15.8 points per game, Marshall is also averaging 6.6 rebounds and 1.9 steals.
Rounding out the senior-laden starting five is point guard Taylor DePalma and forward Nicholle Aston. These five players have accounted for 72.6 percent of the minutes played for the Red this year.
“It is very special that we start five seniors,” Aston said. “We all came in together, have worked so hard during these four years, and to be able to be with each other on the court is so great.”
Despite the upperclassman-heavy team, freshmen Marie Hatch, Maddy Reed and Samantha Widmann — each of whom are averaging approximately 15 minutes per contest — have all carved out niche roles.
“We’ve had a nice balance of some younger players getting minutes lately, and they are continuing to learn how to play proper defense and are getting adjusted to playing at the speed of the college game,” Smith said.
At the conclusion of non-conference play, with the squad clicking on all cylinders, the Red had won nearly 70 percent of its games and was no longer considered a dark horse to win the coveted Ivy League title.
During the early season success, the Red swept rival Columbia, setting the tone for the remainder of its conference slate.
“Starting off conference play with two wins was great,” Aston said. “It helped get the jitters out before playing other opponents.”
However, in its first two-game road trip of conference play, Cornell struggled against both Harvard and Dartmouth and dropped both closely contested matchups, potentially putting the squad’s Ivy League tournament dreams in jeopardy.
“[That] weekend was definitely a wake up call for us because we haven’t had too many situations in the past where games have come down to the wire,” LeDuc said. “So we are looking to learn from these two games, and move past this down the stretch.”
With a newly crafted Ivy League tournament to look forward to, the Red believes that it could reach the tournament in its first year of existence, and even win the competition at the Palestra in March.
“We’re obviously trying to finish in the top four [in the league] in order to have the opportunity to play in the Ivy League tournament,” Smith said. “We’re really excited about that chance.”
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