Women's Basketball: Princeton chases 4th Ivy League title, 1st tournament win
Leading the effort will be the senior class. Headlined by reigning Ivy League Player of the Year and senior forward Niveen Rasheed, who has also been tipped to win this year’s award, the seniors, including center Megan Bowen, forward Kate Miller, Rasheed and guard Lauren Polansky, have experienced a historic upsurge in the Tigers’ national profile. Princeton finished just outside the AP Preseason Top 25, but it received 24 votes in the poll.
After a loss to Kansas State in the first round of the NCAA tournament, a game in which they led by four points early in the second half, the Tigers remain winless in the tournament, leaving advancement in the tournament the next goal for Princeton.
The four all saw significant playing time in that game, and Banghart will certainly be looking to them to set an example.
“We have a much-improved senior class, but we’ve lost three 1,000 point leaders,” Banghart said. “We are looking for our seniors to lead the team. All four of them have gotten better in the program, and all four of them have worked for this.”
Meanwhile, the Tigers expect to face stiff tests in nonconference play. After a 2011-12 schedule that saw them play strong teams from across the NCAA, including perennial Pac-12 power Stanford, Banghart’s squad will be facing No. 11 Delaware and No. 25 DePaul, both opponents from last year’s campaign. With additional games against Marist and Villanova, the schedule speaks to a collective hunger in an ambitious team that has not forgotten the sting of losing after an otherwise very successful 2011-12 season.
“If you add up all 14 [nonconference] games, our schedule is one of the top five in terms of difficulty in the country,” Banghart said. “Our priority has been finding out as much as we can about ourselves. If we wanted to win 25 games, we could do that, but we want to challenge ourselves.”
Challenging and developing players is also integral to Banghart’s plans for the team. Junior forward Kristen Helmstetter and junior guards Nicole Hung and Alex Rodgers are also expected to step into more of an on-court leadership role in the 2012-13 season. Helmstetter and Hung, who saw action in 27 and in all 29 games, respectively, last season, will look to improve solid play, while Rodgers can expect to see more action after playing in 11 games as a sophomore. Banghart expects the hard work and dedication of her juniors to pay off in the coming season.
“They’ve really embraced the process — Nicole, Alex and Kristen — and we’re looking to have them improve from role players to pivotal players,” she said.
Filling out the team will be sophomore guards Blake Dietrick and Mariah Smith and sophomore center Jess Shivers, who all saw a great deal of action last season, and a large class of freshman recruits. The five freshmen, guards Amanda Berntsen and Michelle Miller, wing Annie Tarakchian and forwards Alex Wheatley and Taylor Williams, can expect steady veteran leadership as they adjust to Division I play.
“[The freshmen are] one of the most talented classes that we’ve had,” Banghart said. “They’ll be ready; they’ll know what they have to do.”
While Tiger fans have become accustomed to dominance in women’s basketball, it does not appear that the team will rest on its laurels. Instead, building on an established core, Princeton hopes to begin the season strong against St. Joseph’s in Philadelphia on Sunday. Marist, which Banghart identified as a key non-conference opponent and an early test for the Tigers, is on the slate for Saturday, Nov. 17, in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. The team’s first home game comes from local foe Rider at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 20, at Jadwin Gymnasium, and the Ivy League schedule begins Jan. 12, 2013, at home against Penn.
Banghart is hopeful that this campaign will expand on prior years’ success.
“Our success from the past three years is a great foundation, and hopefully our toughness and accountability will allow us to build on that,” she said.
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