As the season tip-off draws near, speculation surrounds Harvard’s youthful roster.
Will one of the team’s talented underclassmen live up to their rookie hype? Will the team blend senior leadership and young talent and win an League title?
Two unsung members of the Crimson have been there and done that.
Co-captains Kyle Dalton and Christiana Lackner have worn the crimson and white for three seasons, winning an Ivy League championship in 2004-2005.
Neither has been a star in their three years with Harvard, but the veterans are ready to step into their roles as team leaders and examples of hard work and dedication.
Their collective work ethic has impressed Harvard coach Kathy Delaney-Smith so much that the Ivy League’s winningest coach refers to them both as her “blue-collar workers.”
“They would be in my top five in their work ethic of anyone I have ever coached,” Delaney-Smith says. “That’s how hard these young women work.”
And the two players provided their own definition for this nickname.
“People who never give up, people who make the most of the talents they are given or do have,” Dalton says. “One thing we really try to focus on in our team is to know your strengths and play within yourself. And I think we both sort of have been able to find that right now.”
Looking at their personal records, it’s impossible to overlook how much work each of them put in to earn minutes early in their careers.
Prior to her freshman season, Lackner almost decided not to play for Harvard. Other schools courted her, promising starting positions and presenting her with a very difficult decision. It was not until late in the recruiting process that Lackner decided to come to Harvard, even though Delaney-Smith informed her that she would not start and would not be promised playing time.
“She made the choice to come here knowing she would have to work her way into a starting role in her junior season,” Delaney-Smith notes. “That’s just an indication of how humble and team-oriented she is.”
In the 2005-2006 season, Lackner showed just what hard work and dedication can do. She led the Crimson with 141 total rebounds and ranked second in total number of steals and blocks, with 34 and 12, respectively. It was a rare game that Lackner wasn’t on the floor scrapping for a loose ball or fighting for a stray rebound.
Dalton, on the other hand, has found her own role for the Crimson, even as she’s yet found spare minutes on the hardwood. But when the final whistle sounds and the stands have long since emptied, Dalton continues to provide a model for the underclassmen to emulate.
“Kyle hasn’t had the in-the-game role that every player wants, but it has never put a dent in her work ethic,” Delaney-Smith says. “She’s always like, ‘What do I need to do?’ and ‘How do I need to do it?’ What better mentor and role-model do you want as your captain?”
This season, the underclassmen-laden roster—the two captains are the only seniors on this year’s squad—will need that leadership to guide it through the Ivy season. And despite the pressure of captaincy, neither Dalton nor Lackner has shied away from their responsibility.
“Everyone wants to be the captain, but no one understands how much actual work it is,” Delaney-Smith says. “Because here at Harvard, you’re leading leaders.”
The pair of captains will likely provide a leadership stemming not from point totals and post-season accolades. Both captains know that on the court, the individual no longer exists.
“For each other, everyone wants to do what they can, everyone works as hard as they can,” Lackner notes. “That’s where my motivation comes from.”
“Everyone is pretty passionate about being on the team,” Dalton adds. “It’s pretty inspiring.”
Exhibiting modesty along with selflessness, Dalton and Lackner attribute their ability to lead to their own role-models.
“We came in as two little freshmen and had Hana Peljto ’04, who is playing overseas right now, and in our minds is pretty much like a god. And then Maureen McCaffery ’06 stands out too as a great leader,” Lackner says. “We’ve had a lot of great examples and I think just following them we sort of become that role ourselves.”
Peljto was named Ivy League Player of the Year in 2003 and 2004 and is currently in third place all-time in scoring average. Reka Cserny ’05 earned Ivy Player of the Year honors in 2005, while McCaffery started all 27 games for the Crimson last season and ranked second in total rebounds with 122 boards.
“I guess it’s a typical thing that people say lead by example, but I guess we do,” Dalton notes. “Neither of us are all-stars but we work hard every day and contribute and love our team. I think in that way we set a pretty good example for other people.”
—Staff writer Vincent R. Oletu can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.