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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.”
Changes in strategy brought about by the addition of Fagbenle are amplified by the loss of Berry, last year’s starting point guard and co-captain. Lacking a pure point guard with experience, Delaney-Smith has decided to change up the offensive system.
“It’s traditional if opponents see that [sophomore Ali Curtis is] a first-year point guard or that Kit [Metoyer is] a freshman to try to work the point guard and find a vulnerability, so that’s why the ball is not going to be in our point guard’s hand that much,” Delaney-Smith says. “We’ve been working on ball handling so that more than just our point guards have to handle the ball against pressure, and it’s working.”
While the team’s tactics have changed this offseason, its goal is the same as it has been for years: beat Princeton. Last year, the Tigers topped the Crimson by 28 and 30 points in two matchups en route to winning a third straight Ivy League title. This preseason, they were predicted to finish first once again.
“Princeton’s always in the back of your head, knowing they’ve won the title every year that everyone has been here,” Golen says.
But after becoming the first Ivy team to win a postseason game with a WNIT victory last year, the squad has the confidence to take down the Tigers this season.
“We opened a small door, and we want to open a bigger door this year,” Golen says. “We think if we get [to the NCAA tournament], we can really make some noise, but we have to focus on the season first.”
—Staff writer Jacob D. H. Feldman can be reached at email@example.com.
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