In her first three years at Princeton, senior forward Bella Alarie has pretty much done it all. She’s won the Ivy League Rookie of the Year award and two Ivy League Player of the Year awards. She’s broken the program’s single season record for points per game and led Princeton to two consecutive Ivy League regular season and tournament titles.
The final item on her bucket list? A win in the NCAA tournament, something that’s eluded the Tigers over the past two seasons. The Tigers came close last year, leading Kentucky at halftime before ultimately falling by five points.
“Knowing that’s a game we could have won gives us a lot of confidence as a group, and we want to go further than that this year,” Alarie said. “We have high expectations for ourselves, but we know we can reach them.”
Before they can make it to that point, the Tigers must adjust to a new coaching staff — head coach Carla Berube has taken over from Courtney Banghart, who departed for the head coaching job at the University of North Carolina in the off-season.
Berube comes to Princeton from Division III Tufts University, where she coached for 17 years and built a successful program. She faces the unenviable task of continuing the success that Banghart, who won seven Ivy League titles in her 12 years at Princeton, sustained.
“It’s a pretty great machine that I’ve walked in to,” Berube said. “It’s a very talented group, and they know how to work. So it’s just my staff and [me] putting in what we think can work well with the personnel that we have.”
But every coaching transition involves growing pains, as Princeton’s returners learn the new system. Berube and her players both pointed to changes on the defensive end as the most important shift from last season.
“One of the big differences this year is the emphasis on defense,” Alarie said. “It’s different rotations than what we’re used to, so in a lot of ways, I feel like a freshman on the floor again, learning Coach Berube’s style of defense. But it’s been really awesome, I think we’re a really cohesive unit when we’re locked in.”
With that defensive mindset in place, Princeton will be looking to play with pace and convert defensive stops into offensive opportunities.
“Coach Berube has been big on defense and using that to fuel our offense,” junior guard Carlie Littlefield said. “She doesn’t want me to jog it up, ever, so I’m going to be sprinting that ball up the court, so we can have as much time as we can on the shot clock to get a good shot.”
Berube will have the benefit of a talented roster in her first year at the helm. Besides Alarie, Littlefield returns after averaging 13.4 PPG and making the All-Ivy first team as a sophomore. Also returning are sophomore guard Grace Stone, who started 29 of 31 games as a first-year, and sophomore guard Abby Meyers, who averaged 9.4 points per game as a first-year before missing all of last season. Princeton will have to replace Gabrielle Rush ’19 and Sydney Jordan ’19, both of whom started in all 32 games last year.
The Tigers will begin Ivy League play with a target on their backs as the two-time defending champions. But with the unquestioned best player in the Ivy League on their team, they have good reason to be glad with their chances.
Alarie will likely be a high WNBA draft pick next season, and she played for Team USA in the Pan American Games over the summer. And she’s still looking to get better, citing strength and communication as two areas she’d like to improve.
“I think communication comes with leadership,” Alarie said. “And this year, I’ve had to really step into that role, especially with the transition in the coaching staff.”
Prior to Ivy play, Princeton will play a tough non-conference schedule, featuring road games against powerhouse conference teams Iowa and Missouri and a home game against Penn State.