Every season, there are always uncertainties about how the freshmen on a team will adjust to college-level play and the extent to which they will be able to contribute. For the five freshmen on the women’s basketball team, however, these questions have hardly been an issue. Despite the presence of a talented senior class, the freshmen quintet, consisting of guards Amanda Berntsen, Michelle Miller and Annie Tarakchian along with forwards Alex Wheatley and Taylor Williams, has received considerable playing time and provided an offensive boost in scoring and rebounding for the Tigers. The Class of 2016 has combined to score nearly a quarter of the Tigers’ total points so far this season, with each member averaging at least five minutes per game.
Leading the way with 6.5 points per game is Wheatley, who was ranked by ESPN HoopGurlz as the No. 22 forward in the nation last year. The forward has played her best against the Tigers’ stiffest opponents this season, chipping in a team-high 17 points in the win over rival Rutgers and grabbing eight rebounds, six offensive, against then-ranked No. 19 UCLA.
Joining Wheatley in the front court is Williams, who came into Princeton as HoopGurlz’s No. 15 ranked post. Though she hasn’t seen as much playing time, the 6-foot-3-inch forward has shown great rebounding potential, especially on the offensive end. Both Wheatley’s and Williams’ strong presences on the offensive boards have helped the Tigers get second looks at the basket.
“It is nice to be on the court with such great shooters,” Wheatley said. “It makes my job that much easier to be able to dish it out to them.”
One of these shooters is her classmate Miller, who owns the team’s second best three-point field goal percentage and is not far behind Wheatley in scoring with 5.8 points per game. Along with Tarakchian, Miller buried crucial triples that helped spark offensive runs for the Tigers in their closest win against UC Riverside earlier this season. She also contributed 11 points in the Tigers’ victory over Navy Tuesday night.
Both guards attribute their ability to hit shots at important points in the game to the shooting drills they do in practice, which closely resemble the shot opportunities they will encounter in the game. Miller admits this aspect of the game has been more heavily emphasized in college than in high school.
“Coach plans practice down to a T,” Tarakchian said. “She does a very nice job of relating practice to game time situations. It makes the transition from practice to the game easier.”
Joining Miller and Tarakchian in the back court is Berntsen, another shooting threat who adds a new dynamic to the team with her speed at the point guard position. With junior guard Nicole Hung and senior guard Lauren Polansky currently out with injuries, Berntsen has seen more minutes as of late, helping sophomore guard Blake Dietrick with ball handling duties.
The freshmen credit their success on the court to the leadership of the seniors. All five players said in sync that players at the college level are “bigger, stronger and faster.” The upperclassmen serve as role models and teach the freshmen how to reach that high level of play themselves.
“They teach you how to work hard in the weight room and on the court,” Williams said. “It is fun to see how good you can get.”
The upperclassmen may be more experienced and knowledgeable, but they have full confidence in the freshmen’s ability out on the court — a testament to the team’s motto, “All in.”
“One of the biggest differences between high school and college is that there is no hierarchy,” Berntsen said.
“The seniors won’t accept anything less just because we are freshmen,” Wheatley added.
“Being able to contribute now gives us a lot of excitement for the years to come as a class,” Bernsten explained.
The Tigers’ trust in one another has come from the chemistry they have built both on and off the court.
“Our team is so close,” Berntsen said. “Hanging together off the court really helps us when we play on the court.”
While there is a lot of intermixing between the classes, the freshmen also take time to bond among themselves. Over winter break, the rookies put together a holiday video in which they lip-synch to Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas Is You.”
The Tigers return to the court today with a home game against Navy to close out non-conference play. The freshmen are excited for the upcoming weeks, in which they will get their first look at their Ivy League competitors.
“Schedule-wise, we are almost halfway done,” Wheatley said. “But the season is just beginning, so that is exciting.”
Original URL: http://www.dailyprincetonian.com/2013/01/09/32245/