Enter Maureen McCaffery, the then-junior reserve forward who had gone just 1-of-6 in the first half but got hot at just the right time.
She scored 13 second-half points, including five in a row to spark a 26-4 run that would give Harvard the victory and a share of the Ivy title.
“I’ll never forget the Dartmouth game last year,” says the 6’1 forward from Hillsborough, Calif. “It was one of the most exciting sporting events I have ever been a part of. To come back like that after being down, it was so exciting.”
In the second half of last season, McCaffery established herself as one of the team’s best outside shooters and netted double figures four times in the team’s last eight games.
This year, the newly elected co-captain will take on more responsibility, assuming a starting role up front.
After playing shooting guard and small forward last year, McCaffery will mostly man the power forward position in an offense loaded both in the post and on the perimeter.
The move has not been too difficult, as she gets plenty of work at the position in practice.
“I have been really lucky and all the forwards have this preseason because we are very deep and talented,” McCaffery says. “We really push each other in practice. It has been great being able to practice against my teammates and getting ready for the season to start.”
Head coach Kathy Delaney-Smith maintains little hesitation in moving the versatile McCaffery to a new position. She rebounds well and moves effectively without the ball, a perfect combination on the low block.
“She has a nice hook shot, so we feel we can post her up,” says Harvard head coach Kathy Delaney-Smith. “She’s simplified her game and she’s far more effective.”
Perhaps Harvard’s most dangerous returning perimeter threat—she shot 34 percent from the arc last year—McCaffery will continue to utilize her outside skills as well.
“This year I am trying to have a more balanced attack with my outside shot and creating in the post,” McCaffery says.
“She’s our more athletic shooting four player,” Delaney-Smith adds. “She runs the floor well, she’s smart, she knows the system, she’s versatile—she can play the three for us if we want it.”
Harvard suffered a few minor preseason injuries to its small forwards, leaving the squad without a natural three during practice time. McCaffery, who up to then had played in the power forward spot every practice, stepped in without pause and picked up the slack at small forward.
“She’s that player that is so unselfish and has enough versatility,” Delaney-Smith says. “[If] the team doesn’t have one of those [unselfish players like McCaffery], then you’re screwed. I love her unselfishness.”
“She has done a great job at captain,” says senior guard and fellow co-captain Jess Holsey. “She’s great personality on our team—you want her on our team.”
McCaffery hopes this year’s team can be one game better than last year, when Harvard lost a playoff game to the Big Green and watched Dartmouth move on to an NCAA first-round game against UConn.
This year, Harvard has a stacked non-conference schedule and is again the preseason number two in the Ivy League—exactly where Harvard stood a year ago.
McCaffery just wants the last forty minutes of Ivy League play to turn out differently for the Crimson, especially in her senior campaign.
“I want to go to the NCAA tournament,” she says. “We have to win the Ivy League, obviously. Secondly, we need to do really well in our non-conference games, beat some nationally ranked teams. We have a really strong non-conference schedule that will give us an opportunity to do that.”
Adds McCaffery, “Definitely an attitude that’s plagued us in the past and other Harvard teams is this feeling where we would just go in to games and try to compete, and we have a different mindset this year. It’s now not just about competing, but winning the games, and getting over that hump—[it’s] surprising some people.”
If she can keep playing like she did against Dartmouth on March 8, a trip to the NCAA tournament will be anything but a surprise.