For some teams, losing someone whom coach Kathy Delaney-Smith calls one of the best point guards in the Ivy League might be crippling.
But not for Harvard.
Despite the graduation of a first-team All-Ivy selection in point guard Brogan Berry, the Crimson women’s basketball team is looking to reach the top of the Ivy League this season for the first time since 2008.
“Our chances [of winning the Ivy title] are even better this year than last year,” sophomore guard Ali Curtis says. “We’re more experienced, and we have four starters coming back. We’re really stepping up and fulfilling the roles that we need to and I think that is going to allow us to achieve our goal of winning the title this year.”
That’s not to say that Berry won’t be missed on the team. The guard, who ranks sixth in points and second in assists in Harvard history, led the team to three second-place league finishes and the first Ivy victory in the Women’s National Invitation Tournament.
“Brogan was really the main leader for what we did on the court as well as [being] a huge encourager during practices and workouts,” co-captain Miriam Rutzen says. “When things got tough, or when we needed someone to take care of the ball under tough defensive pressure, or the game was on the line, you could always depend on Brogan to be able to handle that and make the big plays and really be calm and collected.”
This year, the team will see the responsibilities of a traditional point guard role spread across a number of different players.
“Brogan was a consummate point guard, and I will not try to fill her shoes,” Delaney-Smith says. “I’ve tweaked our system so that we don’t rely as heavily on a point guard, and I think our team is doing a terrific job. Instead of one person stepping into the shoes, it’s the team stepping up, and so far it’s working.”
The new system, Curtis says, will enable the team to take advantage of fast-break opportunities, hopefully leading to easy baskets.
“We’re really emphasizing the ability to handle pressure and have everyone on the team have that ability,” Curtis explains. “[That way] if a shot goes up, anyone who gets that rebound is able to take the ball and dribble it up the court so that we can attack our opponents and hit them quick.”
Although players like Curtis, junior guard Christine Clark, and freshman Kit Metoyer will still play the traditional role of the point guard when needed, the new system will allow for players to display a wider range of abilities.
“We’re putting in a whole new offensive system where anyone can run point guard, whether they’re the shortest or tallest person on our team,” co-captain Emma Golen says. “This is going to be very, very big for us.”
For the returning veteran guards—Clark and seniors Elle Hagedorn and Victoria Lippert—the new year will bring another chance to lead the team past three-time defending champion Princeton for the Ancient Eight crown.
“I think that we should win the Ivy League title this year,” Clark says. “We’re one year older, so we’ve played together for one more year—we know each other that much better.”
Clark, who averaged 15.3 points per game last year—fifth-best in the league—was named to the 2011-12 All-Ivy League First Team alongside Berry. Lippert finished third on the team in scoring and enters her senior year with 1,108 career points after being named to the All-Ivy League second team three times.
Curtis, though an underclassmen, says that she hopes to take on some of the leadership roles that Berry filled while playing in crimson. Curtis says she has certain qualities that may allow her to fill Berry’s old role more easily.
“[Delaney-Smith] used to say that I had ‘Broganesque tendencies,’” Curtis says. “Brogan and I were very similar, we’re both from the Midwest, and on the court we had similar skills. I’ve tried to fulfill that role of a leader on the court verbally, kind of [directing] players. I definitely learned a lot from Brogan, so I’m hoping to use what she’s taught me and use my skills to better the team this year.”
Two freshmen guards, Metoyer and Shilpa Tummala, look to factor into Harvard’s new scheme as well as the pressure will be spread more evenly among all of the players in Delaney-Smith’s new system.
Even though the team has changed and the offense evolved, Brogan’s influence lives on past her graduation.
“Kit’s just come in and done really well and learned from Ali and Clark, who have Brogan’s knowledge as well, so it’s a great little line down the train we have going here,” Golen explains. “Brogan’s legacy is not over—I guess you could say that. And the knowledge of her game is being passed down through the team.”