Planning a Sequel to the Dream Season
After finishing the 1985-'86 season with a school-record 20 wins and a first-ever Ivy League title, what does the Harvard women's basketball team hope to do this year for an encore?
Garner a bid to the NCAA tournament.
Only one Ivy team has snagged a spot in the national women's post-season play-down since the NCAA began sanctioning women's sports in 1982. But with a beefed-up non-league schedule and four of five starters back from last year's championship squad, Crimson Coach Kathy Delaney Smith is shooting for the honor this year.
It's an ambitious plan for a team which went 3-22 three seasons ago and 8-18 just two years ago, but Delaney Smith believes her players are up to the challenge.
"I think we are a better team," Delaney Smith said. "The team has played together before and consequently [it's] now playing with more poise."
The Crimson is already off to a good start, opening with a repeat championship in the Harvard Invitational Tournament by defeating Fordham and Hofstra, and then downing Smith for its first road victory.
Nine letter-winners overall return, and the quartet of returning starters includes star point guard Barbarann Keffer.
Keffer, Harvard's first All-Ivy selection last year as a sophomore, is once again piloting the Crimson from the backcourt. The team's high scorer with an 11.7 average last season, the 5-ft., 6-in., Broomall, Pa., native also led the team in assists (108) and steals (54).
Returning in the shooting guard position is senior Co-Captain Trisha Brown. A 5-ft., 9-in. player out of Norwood, Mass., Brown has been consistent for the Crimson over her first three seasons, and currently ranks 11th on the all-time scoring list.
Brown shares her captain's duties with junior forward Sharon Hayes, the team's number two scorer (10.9 average) and free throw shooter (75.7 percent) a year ago. Hayes, already Harvard's eighth all-time scorer, is playing "better offense than ever this year" according to Delaney Smith.
Center Nancy Cibotti, a 6-ft. junior from Walpole, Mass., has improved her offensive play and has become a scoring threat as well as a strong rebounder and defensive player. Last season Cibotti started in 20 of 27 games and paced the team in rebounding with a 5.5 average.
Rounding out the first five is a newcomer to the starting lineup, 6-ft. sophomore forward Sarah Duncan. Although she didn't start in her freshman year, Duncan saw action in each of the team's games, and led the hoopsters in free throw percentage (88.6) and blocked shots.
Off the bench, Mary Baldauf and Hanya Bluestone are playing "extremely well" according to Delaney Smith, and have been "instrumental" in Harvard's early-season success. Both players are backup guards, with the 5-ft., 7-in. Baldauf and 5-ft., 8-in. Bluestone giving an added dimension of speed to the squad.
Other returning letterwinners include 5-ft., 10-in. sophomore forward Nicole Anderson, and sophomore guard Andrea Eror (5-ft., 9-in.).
Despite the large number of veterans on the squad, a number of key additions and some strategy changes have given the team a new look.
This season's crop of recruits boasts an abundance of talent and height, giving Harvard the "tallest team we've ever had," according to Delaney Smith. The reason for the sudden growth spurt lies in 6-ft., 2-in. freshmen Melinda Nelson and Sandra Springer. "They are extremely talented with unlimited potential," Delaney Smith said. "They will dominate in the center position at some point, hopefully during their freshman season."
Another new face, Hamden, Conn., native Heidi Kosh, has already shown her ability to shine in intercollegiate competition. Kosh played consistently in this season's first three games, leading the team in scoring against Smith with 17 points. Despite standing only 5-ft., 7-in., Kosh has proven a surprisingly strong rebounder. "She has been just amazing. She has already passed my expectations," said Delaney Smith.
Kosh, a point guard, had the ability to step into a starting position in numerous schools, but chose Harvard despite the knowledge that her natural position here was held by Keffer.
"Heidi is a team player," Delaney Smith said. "She could have gone to start just about anywhere else, but choosing Harvard regardless of that epitomizes her dedication as a team player." Kosh has not been resting on the bench, however, and has seen as much playing time as the starting five.
The addition of the Boston Four and Hawaii tournaments gives a new dimension to Harvard's schedule: competition with a number of nationally-known and nationally-ranked squads. "This is the toughest non-league schedule we've ever had," Delaney Smith said. "In the Boston Four tourney we will be facing the top Division I teams in the Boston area. In Hawaii the teams competing are in the top-20 or right up there. It will give us a chance to see where we stand with those type of teams."
Harvard needed a schedule boost if it expected to be considered for an at-large bid in the 1987 NCAA post-season tourney. Despite a 20-7 record and an Ivy Championship last year, the Crimson's weak non-league schedule prevented the squad from being considered for a tourney bid.
"Last year we didn't have the schedule to prove ourselves," Delaney Smith said. "But, being an optimist, if we do well in the Boston Four and in Hawaii versus bigger Division I schools, and end up winning the Ivy League with a decent record, I'll definitely be politicking for an at-large bid."
In order to measure up to the stronger competition--and to take advantage of the cagers' extremely deep bench--Delaney Smith has revamped the team's defense, giving thehoopsters a new look on the court. Afterintroducing a full-court press late last season,Delaney Smith has put in a different system thisyear, strengthening the press and complicating theteam's strategy.
"It was a more simple system last year,"explained Delaney Smith. "Last year the pressinvolved mainly the guards, this year it's a totalteam effort."
And while the defense works on a more intensepress, the offense is taking advantage of theteam's quickness to fast break more frequently.
Delaney Smith expects the Crimson to be in topform for its opening Ivy League game against Pennin Philadelphia January 9. Harvard was picked torepeat as Ivy champion in many pre-season polls,but will face tough competition from perennialpower Dartmouth