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Bumps and bruises will not stop coach Kathy Delaney-Smith this year. After an era in which Princeton dominated the Ivy League for four straight Ancient Eight titles, the Harvard women’s basketball team is ready to wear the crown.
The Crimson enters the 2013-14 campaign following two years of first-round wins in the WNIT despite slews of season-ending injuries. Health, Delaney-Smith stresses, will be essential to league success.
“I love how everyone came back this summer,” Delaney-Smith said. “No excuses, but we’ve had a series of season-ending, and even career-ending, injuries ... that really kept us playing at about 50 percent for some athletes.”
Harvard returns three of its five starters following the graduation of forward Miriam Rutzen ’13 and guard Victoria Lippert ’13. Rutzen, a co-captain last year, provided power on the glass with an average of nearly six rebounds per game. Lippert was the team’s second-leading scorer with 13.7 points per game and displayed an ability to make shots when they counted most—especially at the charity stripe.
But whatever the team has lost, it has gained experience and fresh blood. Junior guard Ali Curtis will return to her job as floor general with a year of starts to her name after effectively having her sophomore season be her rookie year. Curtis will be a force in league competition if she reduces turnovers that were sometimes costly for the team.
“I think my role on the team has become more of a dominant presence as far as directing and calling the plays and leading from the point guard position,” Curtis said. “I think that having a year under my belt is going to help me and thus, in turn, help the team.”
Co-captain Christine Clark will anchor the shooting effort for her squad as the top-scoring player on the team, and returns to the court with an even sharper approach to the game.
“[Clark is] creating for her teammates,” Delaney-Smith said. “She’s very versatile. She can shoot the three, she can pull up, she can draw the foul… She’s got a lot of ways to score.”
Rounding out the trio of veterans is junior forward Temi Fagbenle. The team’s tallest member at 6’4”, the 2012 Olympian is the most efficient from the floor, hitting nearly 60 percent of her field goals.
Along with a propensity to snatch rebounds—over seven per game—Fagbenle occasionally struggled with letting her height get the best of her last season and was called for 55 fouls over 29 games, the most of a forward on the team.
Competition is certainly rife to fill the two empty starting spots, as new, recovered, and improved members of the team will jostle for starting roles.
“I definitely think that our entire team is capable of starting,” Curtis said. “It’s funny because you don’t hear a lot of people say that, but we have such a deep team. The fact that we have to fill those two positions won’t be an issue at all because any of the players on the team could technically fill them.”
Sophomore Shilpa Tummala, who entered Harvard with lofty expectations as a nationally regarded recruit, will return this year as a versatile shooting guard with impressive agility at 5’11” and a talent for making shots. Tummala—once the runner-up at the National High School Three-Point Shooting competition—put up 10 points in her Ivy League debut in January against Dartmouth before suffering a season-ending injury.
Hoping to fill the void left by Rutzen and co-captain Emma Golen in the frontcourt are junior forward Erin McDonnell, senior center Elise Gordon, and sophomore forward AnnMarie Healy. Healy and McDonnell contributed to the Crimson off the bench last year while Gordon sat out much of the conference season with an injury.
Delaney-Smith’s job this year will be to guide all this talent into an Ivy League machine, one that looks to continue its success against the rival Tigers. Harvard showed flashes of brilliance in its historic win over Princeton in March that ended the Tigers’ 33-game Ancient Eight win streak. In the contest, Lippert knocked down a crucial 10 of 10 foul shots and combined with Clark for 35 points. Harvard defenders held two-time Ivy League Player of the Year Niveen Rasheed to a season-low 26 percent from the field.
“Everybody seems to be healthier, stronger, and motivated by our end-of-the-season beating of Princeton,” Delaney-Smith said. “I think we will garner a lot of confidence from that.”
With Rasheed and several other instrumental Princeton players gone, the title may finally be Harvard’s for the taking.
“I think we’ll be the team to beat this year,” Delaney-Smith said.
—Staff writer Cordelia F. Mendez can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @CrimsonCordelia.
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