With 31 of the 33 points she needed to become only the third woman in Ivy League history to reach the 2,000 point plateau, Peljto had one last chance and just under 10 seconds to finish the job in last Friday’s contest with Cornell.
Receiving the entry pass from a wide-open Tricia Tubridy, Peljto drop-stepped and spun to the rim for what might have become the most memorable lay-up of her career.
Three offensive rebounds later, Peljto was still one bucket shy of the record books.
“Before the last play coach took a time out and told the team [about the record] because we usually don’t take the last shot if we’re winning,” Peljto says. “It’s kind of difficult to set up a play like that and just make it happen. I was a little bit nervous, but I wasn’t too frustrated or disappointed, because the points will come.”
Indeed, those missed shots may have been a blessing in disguise, because now Crimson fans will have the chance to see history in the making at home against Yale on Friday night. Harvard coach Kathy Delaney-Smith hopes Hana’s achievement will attract some student attention.
“I’d actually rather it happen this weekend. It’s parents weekend, senior weekend, and so it’s a nice time to achieve such an incredible honor,” Delaney-Smith says. “I think that Hana is a treasure and a special basketball player, and it’d be great to get some students down here to see her.”
The delayed gratification also gives Peljto the chance to reflect on the magnitude of her accomplishment.
“I never really set goals like that for myself. It’s nice that it will happen and it will be nice to be honored but when I came here I never had anything like that in mind,” she says. “I’m just lucky to have the teammates that I’ve had, and to be surrounded by the coaching staffs that I’ve had. More than anything I’m just happy that my time playing basketball has been with such wonderful people.”
Will the attention devoted to that first basket affect the way she plays?
“I’m going to try not to think about it, but the nice thing about it is that it’s only two points, so after it happens, it’s done and I can just play out the rest of the game.”
Beyond the attention of the Crimson faithful—and likely several professional scouts—Peljto has received accolades from friends in high places. Former Minnesota Governor Jesse “The Body” Ventura—on campus as a teaching fellow at the Kennedy School’s Institute of Politics—is also the former mayor of Peljto’s hometown of Brooklyn Park, Minn.
“I knew about Hana when she was in high school, and she was the best player in the state her senior year,” Ventura recalls. “I was disappointed at first when I found out she was choosing Harvard over Minnesota but that tells me she’s intelligent as well, and now she’s doing great things here.”
Peljto’s feat is not only a personal milestone. Her achievement will combine with those of another Harvard standout to break new ground in the Ancient Eight. Peljto and Allison Feaster ’98—the Crimson’s all-time scoring leader, now with the WNBA’s Charlotte Sting—will become the first pair from a single Ivy League school to reach the 2,000 point mark. Earlier this season, Peljto tied Feaster’s single-game scoring mark with a 39-point performance against Lafayette.
“We always hear stories about [Feaster],” Peljto says. “To be mentioned in the same light as her is a true honor.”
But despite the kinship the two share in Harvard women’s basketball history, Delaney-Smith says there are some dissimilarities between the two players.
“Everyone always asks me to compare the two, but they’re entirely different players. Allison started to get serious about her off-season work later in her career, whereas Hana came here with that. Allison was a more powerful player at this point in her career, and right now Hana has a little more finesse.”
Leaving Her Mark
Peljto’s legacy, however, includes more than a couple of record-breaking evenings. This year she leads the league in points per game with 24.1, ranks second in rebounding at 9.9 per contest and has been named Ivy League player of the week on three occasions. All this in a season that Peljto feels “didn’t quite live up to expectations.”
“Hana puts the team first,” Delaney-Smith says. “So as much as I think she is proud of this accomplishment if you gave her the chance for an Ivy League title, I think she’d take it over personal achievement,”
In her first three years at Harvard—which included two Ivy crowns—Peljto created quite a reputation for herself. She was twice named Ivy League Player of the Year, in addition to being named Ivy League Rookie of the Year in her freshman season. She was named to the CoSida Academic All-America squad, and tagged a Mid-Major All-American by Full Court Press Journal.
So where does all of this put Hana Peljto’s legacy in the pantheon of Harvard lore?
“I hope to be remembered as someone who was very committed and worked very hard, because I think that’s what my game exemplifies,” Peljto says. “A lot of my game is based on hustle, and I guess when you talk about me, that’s what you would talk about.”
Her coaches and teammates agree.
“Unquestionably, Hana leaves a legacy of the most remarkable work-ethic I have ever coached,” Delaney-Smith says. “I see how my freshmen admire and try to emulate that. There’s nothing a coach can do and say that will have more effect on the younger players than seeing Hana work hard everyday. That’s a life lesson in my opinion.”
It should be no surprise that it might take Hana Pejlto a few tries at that last bucket. For a player who has built her career on dedication and tenacity, it is only fitting.