30-0 in the regular season. The program’s first NCAA Tournament victory.
Under head coach Courtney Banghart, this women’s basketball team has achieved high levels of success. Few, however, could have imagined that they would reach such heights this season. The Tigers finished their season 31-1, falling to the Maryland Terrapins, no. 1 seed and one of just four teams remaining in the NCAA Women’s Championship tournament.
Going into this year, however, Banghart noted that she felt the need to push this team more than she had others.
“On the way into this season, I thought this team was too nice, too easygoing,” Banghart said. “I was harder on this team than in previous years.”
Senior guard Blake Dietrick, however, commented on a different side of the team: a group of women hungry to win after not qualifying for the tournament last season.
“Last year, losing the Ivy [League title] was a reality check for us, since we had won it the past four years, then to be the team that broke the streak and let everyone down,” Dietrick said. “We were so intent on that not being the legacy that was left from this season.”
Even with this extra motivation, the level of success this team achieved was surreal even to them.
“Back when we were 2-0, [senior guard] Blake [Dietrick] and I sat down,” said junior forward Annie Tarakchian. “She said ‘Annie, if we go undefeated this year you have to bleach your hair.’ ” Now, with her hair bleach-blonde, she admitted while laughing, “I never would have thought that we would [go 30-0].”
Just as impressive as the team’s was the manner in which they won. The Tigers recorded winning margins as high as 71. Only twice in their 31 victories did they win by less than 10 points.
One of the key components in this formula for victory was trust between teammates.
Banghart, in the midst of her comments about needing to push this team, said with a note of pride that “they trusted each other,” highlighting the bond that kept this team together as they made their way to perfection.
“Our motto was ‘got your six.’ That’s military jargon for ‘I got your back,’ ” Tarakchian said, commenting on the close-knit nature of this year’s team. “It was never about one person, it was about the squad.”
The team-first nature was reflected on the court as well — even with stars like Dietrick and Tarakchian out on the court, no one person seemed to dominate alone. Princeton had four players this season scoring more than 10 points per game. Dietrick herself led the way with 15 a game.
This team showed its poise both on and off the court. Dealing with the increasing media attention was one of the team members’ key skills.
“It was crazy. There were reporters at every single practice. You really just have to compartmentalize — you come early to practice, you talk to the media, and then it’s over,” Dietrick said. “It started early, so by the time Ivy season came around we were already used to dealing with the pressure.”
Tarakchian pointed out that having to deal with this extra pressure indicated how far this team had come.
“Pressure is a privilege — our media coverage was from the fact that we hadn’t lost,” Tarakchian said. “To be able to go into 30 games and come out on top 30 times is incredible. That’s the way you want it to be.”