Strong Season, Stronger Future for Women’s Basketball

Troy Story

Up and Coming
Sophomore Kirby Porter powers past Princeton defenders on February 7, 2016, in the Crimson’s narrow loss to the Tigers. Despite a roller coaster season, the relatively young team can take its future into its own hands.

A night game at home against Dartmouth might just come back to haunt the Harvard women’s basketball team. The contest—a 70-64 loss to the Big Green—saw the Crimson shoot 32 percent from the field and 18 percent from beyond the arc.

Four weeks later, the Harvard squad that lost that home against Dartmouth only a week after taking down the Big Green in Hanover is nearly unrecognizable. A close win against Cornell on Saturday puts Harvard in contention with Ivy League heavyweights Penn and Princeton, but barring the two lose to the teams they’ve trounced earlier this season, the road to an Ivy League title looks near impossible.

With Penn undefeated and Princeton hot on their trail with only a single loss, even a perfect finish to the season by the Crimson likely wouldn’t be enough to take the Ivy League. Barring a miracle win by the likes of Dartmouth or Cornell against Princeton and Penn, it seems as if the Killer P’s are en route to their seventh Ivy League title—yes, Princeton and Penn are the only two schools to win the Ivy League in the past six years.

By no means, however, has the season been a disappointment for the Crimson. At 7-3, Harvard’s season has seen the largest comeback in program history along with an overtime loss against a Princeton squad that started the season ranked and went 30-0 in the regular season just a year ago.

For the Crimson, the season didn’t start quite as expected. After a series of tough non-conference matchups that saw the Harvard drop five in a row at one point, it seemed the departure of the Crimson’s two main scorers—Temi Fagbenle and Erin McDonnell—had left Harvard without an offense. With a starting rotation of three seniors and two freshman guards, it seemed as if the Crimson’s offense more or less relied on one of the Crimson’s three seniors putting up more than 20 on a given night.

The Crimson seemed hit a new low against Stony Brook early in January when a late whistle sent the Seawolves to the line with three seconds on the clock. Freshman guard Davion Wingate missed the first, but swished the second to send Harvard home with their fifth loss in a row.

For the Crimson, the old adage that says you can’t win unless you learn to lose apparently holds true. Since that January loss Harvard has lost only four contests, with three of these decided by single digits.

As it stands, co-captain AnnMarie Healy is the second leading scorer in the Ivy League and holds the fourth best field goal percentage. Co-captain Kit Metoyer and classmate Shilpa Tummala are first and second among the league in average three-pointers made.

Despite the bleak odds at an Ivy League title, the second half of Harvard’s season has been nothing short of spectacular. After surviving overtime against Cornell and a late run from Columbia in New York it’s become obvious coach Kathy Delaney-Smith’s team isn’t one to throw in the towel, especially when it comes to the conference games and perhaps even more so when it’s late in the game.

To illustrate my point I’ll simply say this—six of the Crimson’s ten Ivy League games have been decided in the last three minutes of play or overtime.

When it comes down to it, Harvard is only a late bucket against Dartmouth and an overtime win against Princeton shy of a 9-1 record. It might almost be unfair, but that’s at the end of the day that’s the Ivy League.

It might seem like Delaney-Smith’s squad is timelessly stuck in a battle for silver or bronze in the Ivy League—in the past seven seasons Harvard has never finished below third in the Ivy League, but it has also never won the Ivy League title outright. Discounting aforementioned miracles it looks like the streak will hold for 8 years now—but even there’s plenty of room for hope in Delaney-Smith’s locker room.

With a rotation of three freshman guards that regularly play over 20 minutes and promising play from sophomore Kirby Porter and Junior Destiny Nunley, the Crimson has the pieces in place to compete for the next few years.

Among the big three—in this case Harvard, Princeton, and Penn—Delaney-Smith is the only coach to regularly start and rotate in freshman. The trio of Nani Redford, Madeline Raster, and Sydney Skinner is averaging 14.8 points, 10 rebounds, and 5.6 assists a game. By themselves these statistics might not seem impressive, but when you think about the fact that no Penn freshman averages more than eight minutes a game or the fact that all of Princeton’s four leading scorers are graduating come May, it seems as if Delaney-Smith’s team might just be on the brink of something good.

So yes, that January 23 loss against an up-and-coming Dartmouth squad might simply be another chapter in the history of a Harvard team unable to get over the hump for a few years. The future looks bright, however, and even as it stands there’s still plenty of basketball left to be played. Who knows, maybe miracles do happen.

—Staff writer Troy Boccelli can be reached at troy.boccelli@thecrimson.com

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