The Harvard women’s basketball team lost only one starter from its 2011-12 squad, but it will look quite different when it takes the court this season and attempts to reach the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2007.
Last year, Brogan Berry ’12 graduated as a member of only the second class in coach Kathy Delaney-Smith’s 31-year tenure to leave without at least one Ivy League ring, instead finishing second four years in a row.
A quartet of contributing seniors hopes to avoid the same fate this season.
“It’s definitely hitting home with all four of us seniors that this is really our last chance,” co-captain Emma Golen says. “A lot of us are going to be playing the last basketball games of our lives this year.”
Through three years, the four members of the senior class have brought diverse talents to the floor.
Golen is a versatile player who creates matchup problems for opponents. Last year, she ranked second in the Ivy League in three-point percentage, brought down double-digit rebounds multiple times, and tallied 13 blocks and 15 steals. Her co-captain, Miriam Rutzen, brings a powerful force to the low block and is looking better than ever according to Delaney-Smith.
On the perimeter, senior Victoria Lippert is a scoring machine who has averaged double-digit points in the past three seasons and was in the top five in the Ancient Eight in scoring as a freshman and sophomore. She currently ranks third in Harvard history in made three-pointers as well as 13th in points, and she will move higher in both of those categories with another strong season.
Lastly, senior Elle Hagedorn has been everything Delaney-Smith could have wanted in a sixth-man. A sparkplug off the bench, Hagedorn led the team in steals per minute last year and ranked near the top in rebounds per minute, in spite of being a 5’10” guard.
Despite the success the group has had, all four roles might change this year, as the team welcomes sophomore Temi Fagbenle to the court.
Fagbenle, who was ranked No. 13 in ESPN’s list of the 100 top recruits in the Class of 2011, was forced to sit out last season due to an NCAA ruling.
“[Fagbenle is] so much happier now,” Delaney-Smith says. “[Last year] she was an emotional roller coaster, as was I. I lost such confidence in the NCAA [when Fagbenle was required to sit out].”
Fagbenle used the time to dedicate herself to preparing for the Great Britain Olympic team tryouts. She went on to make the team and log significant minutes last August.
“I think she did fabulous,” Delaney-Smith says. “She’s a remarkable player.”
Now she will turn her focus to the Ivy League, as she revolutionizes the way the Crimson conducts business. On defense, Fagbenle’s length and ability to make opponents alter their shots down low will allow her teammates to be more aggressive on defense. On the other side of the floor, Fagbenle’s skills force defenders to focus on her, opening things up for others.
“I like to shoot, so for me, I like having Temi,” Golen says. “Even in practice already, she’s drawing so many [double teams] that create open shots, not just for me but for so many people.”