With her tan from a winter vacation fading as fast as her team's fortunes are rising, Carole Kleinfelder, coach of the women's basketball team, now runs a different Crimson squad from the one that lost its first three games.
"I think we didn't have the right combination in the beginning of the season, but we've found it now," she says.
And they have found it with a vengeance.
The hoopsters have not lost since they dropped a 59-55 decision to East Connecticut State on Dec. 15, 1978. Since then, they've glided for nine games to an 11-4 record and, despite their third seed, the best mark of the eight teams in the Ivy League Championships to be played this weekend at Yale.
Kleinfelder gave several reasons for the transformation: "I want to talk about Karen Smith. I think she's given the team some personality. People love to watch her reject shots. People come to see her; they see the team, and they come back," she says.
But you will not see Karen Smith's picture with the rest of the team on the gallery in the IAB lobby. Smith did not play varsity until midway through the season because of an injury.
Kleinfelder found a 6 ft.-1 in. center who is, in great measure, responsible for the surge. Early in the season. Harvard was repeatedly victimized under the boards and on defense. Despite some fancy scoring, Elaine Holpuch, another 6 ft.-1 in. freshman center, often suffered from not being aggressive enough. Having played forward in high school, Holpuch was not used to playing with her back to the basket, and smaller players often took advantage of her speed. And on offense Holpuch endured several bouts of arctic shooting. In three straight games she went 3-12, 3-13 and 3-12 from the field.
Smith gave the team much-needed speed on offense and was an intimidating presence on defense. Her blocked shots have brought many an IAB crowd to its feet, and her two 20-point scoring efforts have provided a vital scoring First Aid.
Smith's offensive efforts complement those of two veterans. Junior forward Wendy Carle came back from a slow start to lead the hoopsters in several key victories. In three straight key games in January, Carle led the Crimson in points and rebounds.
"Nobody tries harder than Wendy. She completely loses herself to the game. She never ever quits," Kleinfelder says.
But in the Dartmouth game, the most important contest to date for the cagers, junior captain Caryn Curry led the way with 25 points. Curry is clearly the team leader. With the poise of Patton under fire and the elegance of Fonteyn under the lights, she alternates between point guard and forward.
The Crimson faced its toughest scare in weeks Tuesday night at the University of Connecticut, when guard Lisa Bernstein had to hit a ten-footer with 12 seconds left to salvage a 76-75 Harvard win. Holpuch's return to early-season form with a 23-point effort, and Smith's 22 and Carle's 21 were omens of good things to come in New Haven.
So the Crimson brings a nine-game winning streak and a van-full of momentum into Payne-Whitney Gym this weekend when they face Brown in the tournament opener this afternoon. Kleinfelder, a disciple of the Frank McLaughlin school of au courant coaching couture, brings her fashionable self and a squad that is ready to win.
Says the coach, "I'm ready, we're ready. I think we're solid."