When the Harvard women’s basketball team takes the floor against North Dakota State Friday night, it will mark the beginning of the end for seniors Victoria Lippert and Elle Hagedorn and co-captains Emma Golen and Miriam Rutzen.
The Crimson finished last season with an 18-12 record overall, going 10-4 in conference play—good enough for second in the Ivy League behind an undefeated Princeton team. If Harvard is to improve on last year’s campaign, the four seniors will have much to do with it.
“I thought we were very young last year, but I think we’re very experienced now,” Harvard coach Kathy Delaney-Smith says. “Those four seniors have had a lot of tournament game time under their belt. They’re ready to go, they’re hungry, and they’re angry that we let last year slip away from us.”
Having experienced second-place Ancient Eight finishes in each of their three seasons, the seniors have learned what it takes to achieve success on the court and have grown close along the way.
“I love these girls,” Lippert says. “Emma, Miriam, and Elle are just awesome teammates and such good friends…. We’re really coming together this year even more because this is our graduation year. Our whole team and the seniors especially are united in that goal of finishing our careers with a title.”
Harvard graduated only two players last year: co-captains Brogan Berry and Lindsay Louie. Berry—who finished her career sixth on the program’s all-time scoring list— averaged 12.9 points per game, led the team with 4.2 assists per contest, and played an average of 35.3 minutes per game last season.
But outside of Berry, the rest of last year’s core will return more experienced and ready to improve on the foundation it built in 2011-12. Players are more familiar and comfortable with each other, something that junior center Elise Gordon attributes to the senior leadership.
“With Miriam and [Emma] being captains this season, they’ve obviously had to step up and take on a larger role,” Gordon says. “But it’s the little things that they do, like coming up to you and making sure you’re okay, and giving you tips, and helping you correct mistakes that you’re making. It’s these kinds of interactions that they’ve really been good at.”
All four seniors played important roles on last season’s squad. Although now-junior guard Christine Clark and Berry led the team in scoring, the next four spots on that list were occupied by this year’s seniors, with Lippert leading the group with 11.7 points per game.
Lippert has been one of the top three Harvard scorers each of her three years on the team. The guard ranks 14th in Crimson history in points and has been named to the All-Ivy Second Team every season.
“[Victoria is] just a flat out scorer in every regard,” Delaney-Smith says. “She’s multidimensional in the way she can score, and she’s got this love of the game. If I had to criticize her it would be because she’s too intense sometimes, and that’s great leadership as well.”
A pass-first player who amassed 4.4 rebounds per game despite playing less than a half on average last season, Hagedorn will almost certainly see more playing time this year with the departure of Berry.
Rutzen has been one of Harvard’s most consistent performers, averaging considerable minutes since her freshman season. Named the Crimson’s best defensive player last season, Rutzen has continued to develop even over the last few months.
“Miriam’s game is at a level I’ve never seen it,” Delaney-Smith explains. “I’m just so pleased with her. She is being a leader in every regard on and off the court.”
Averaging nearly 10 points per game last year, Golen has been a constant force for Harvard both on the wing and down low. The addition of sophomore forward Temi Fagbenle, who had to sit out last year, will likely change Golen’s role, but Delaney-Smith is confident she will continue to make large contributions both on the floor and in the locker room.
“[Emma] has proven in her four years how unselfish she is and how she puts the team first,” Delaney-Smith says. “I don’t think her leadership will miss a beat, whether she’s the sixth player or a starter. They’re equally important roles, and I think she knows that. She will embrace either role.”
According to both their coaches and teammates, the seniors’ words and actions have created the feeling that every player on the team possesses an important, unique role.
“I couldn’t be more pleased with [the senior] leadership,” Delaney-Smith says. “I’m a big believer in keeping some traditions and creating your own. This is now Miriam and [Emma’s] team, and they’ve really stepped up…. The team chemistry is the best it’s ever been. This is an incredible group of women, and I’m very pleased with where they are right now.”
Though Clark and Fagbenle may account for much of the team’s scoring, this group of seniors will play a key role in the overall success of the team.
“The fact that we have come so close the past few years is extra motivation to really get over that hump now,” Lippert says. “We know that we have such awesome potential, and now it’s a matter of putting it all together at the right time and executing and finishing hard down the stretch.”