After losing only two seniors to graduation last year, the women’s basketball team will be looking to continue the program’s recent successes with a talented squad this season, that should once again be a strong contender for the Ivy League title. The Tigers return 12 letterwinners from last season while also regaining one of their co-captains from injury.
The Tigers ended last season with a 21-9 record overall (11-3 Ivy), finishing in second place in the Ivy League after a disappointing loss to Penn in their final game of last season. The Tigers earned their fifth-straight postseason bid last season, advancing to the second round of the Women's National Invitational Tournament. Princeton beat Virginia Commonwealth University in the first round of the tournament before falling to Seton Hall University. The Tigers will be looking to add this season to their 12 league championships and five NCAA Tournament berths.
In the annual preseason poll of conference media and women’s basketball sports information editors, Princeton was picked to win the Ivy League this year for a record fifth-straight year. While both Penn and Princeton received 123 points in the poll, the Tigers received two more first-place votes, leaving them atop the preseason rankings. This season is likely to be another showdown between the two rivals.
The Tigers’ first game of the 2014-15 season will be played on the road at Pittsburgh this Friday, Nov. 14. The team’s home opener will be played in Jadwin Gymnasium on Wednesday, Nov. 19, against Drexel University at 7 p.m. As in the past, the Tigers will have a challenging non-conference schedule, facing nine teams that received postseason berths last year and playing games all over the continent, traveling as far south as Cancun to play in the Cancun Challenge. Ivy League play for the Tigers will begin at home in early 2015 with a game against Penn on Jan. 10.
Head Coach Courtney Banghardt, who has coached the team to five consecutive 20-win seasons, all with postseason bids, is pleased with the continuity and depth of this year’s team. “We do have a lot of experience on the team. We are bringing back a lot of experience with seniors who are healthier than they have been and juniors with a lot of playtime," Banghardt said. “Our freshmen and sophomores are empowered to help us now, and we have a really quick-learning freshman class. If they keep up their learning curve, they’ll definitely be able to help us,” she added.
The Tigers managed to set several program records last season, finishing first in the conference in scoring offense (75.5), scoring margin (+11.6), field goal percentage (.474), assists (16.1) and rebounding margin (+9.4). The Tigers finished second in the league in field goal percentage defense (.377), three-point shooting (.366), three-point defense (.310) and blocks (4.0). The Tigers also finished third in the Ivy League in scoring defense (64.1).
Senior guard and co-captain Blake Dietrick leads the Tiger offense after earning a first-team All-Ivy selection last season, finishing the year ranked third in the conference in three-point percentage (40.0), tied for fourth in assists per game (3.4) and fifth in points per game (14.3). Dietrick had 21 double-digit scoring games last season, including six games in which she scored over 20 points. She was also named Conference Player-of-the-Week four times last season. With the fourth-highest number of three-pointers (76) and the fourth highest single-season free throw percentage (.852) in program history last season, Dietrick is currently 10th on the Princeton all-time career list for number of three-pointers made (147). The senior has a career average of 9.1 points per game, with a shooting percentage of .440 from the floor and .807 from the free throw line. Her career .390 three-point percentage is ranked fourth on the school’s career list.
Fellow co-captain and senior forward Mariah Smith will be looking to reclaim a larger role on the team after playing in only seven games last season due to a stress fracture in her foot. Smith averaged 5.1 points and 2.4 rebounds per game her sophomore year, leading the team with 21 blocks. Smith has a .449 career shooting percentage from the floor, also averaging 3.8 points and 2.1 rebounds per game over her college career.
Junior guard Michelle Miller finished second on the team last season in points (11.7) and rebounds (5.1) per game. With a shooting percentage of 45.3 from the field and 82.9 from the free throw line, Miller shot 39.6 percent on three-pointers last season. In the WNIT second-round game against Seton Hall last year, Miller played incredibly well, shooting a career-high eight three-pointers with a personal high of 34 points, the second-highest number of threes and fourth-most points scored in a single game in Tiger history. Miller’s career three-point percentage is 39.1, the third-highest in program history.
Junior forward Michelle Alex Wheatley earned an All-Ivy honorable mention last year after scoring in double digits 17 times and starting all 30 games last season. Leading the league in field goal percentage (54.4), Wheatley averaged 10.2 points and 4.6 rebounds per game. Junior guard Amanda Berntsen started 18 games last year while playing in a total of 29, averaging roughly six points, three rebounds and two assists per game. Berntsen had shooting percentages of 47.7 from the floor and 72.0 from the free throw line.
Other returning players with significant time on the court last season include junior forward Taylor Williams, junior guard/forward Annie Tarakchian and sophomore guard Vanessa Smith. Williams averaged 6.7 points and 4.1 rebounds on an average 19 minutes per game to accompany her 60.5 shooting percentage. Tarakchian averaged six points and five boards per game with a shooting percentage of 51.1 and a free throw percentage of 84.6. Smith shot 42 percent from the floor last season, averaging 5.1 points and 2.6 rebounds on roughly 13 minutes on the court per game.
Three promising freshmen have also joined the team this year, including McDonald All-America nominees Kenya Holland and Tia Weledji and a fellow freshman Leslie Robinson.
Banghardt is optimistic and noted that the team will have a renewed focus on defense this season. “I really like this group. They’re committed to the right things, and for us, that’s on the defensive side. Last year, we weren’t solid enough defensively, so they’ve been really focused on defense since the beginning. There’s a lot to be played, but I really like their focus and intensity,” Banghardt said. “Our defense isn’t strong enough yet, but they’re focused. And offensively we have a lot of players who can score. It’s going to all come to a head this weekend. We keep getting better day by day,” she added.