The Harvard women’s basketball team has a concise yet powerful guiding principle: “We over me.” This team motto embodies the attitudes of the newest additions to the squad, the incoming freshman class.
“They have fit in perfectly,” coach Kathy Delaney-Smith said. “ They’re incredibly talented. I want to put their drive and work ethic at the top of the list. I think a lot of them, in one way or another, are going to make an impact on us.”
With the new cohort of freshmen forwards Rachel Levy, Grace Tworek, Maddie Stuhlreyer, and Jadyn Bush and rookie guard Matilda Salen, Harvard looks to bolster a unit that went 21-9 overall last season, with an 8-6 in-conference record. Although the Crimson lost in the Ivy League semifinals, at one point the team had won 16 consecutive matchups.
Stuhlreyer, the team’s new tallest forward at 6’5”, hails from Cincinnati, Ohio, where she played AAU basketball in high school. Although the commitment is huge for the travel basketball circuit, it pales in comparison to playing in the Ivy League. Here, the expectations are higher, the schedule is demanding, and commitments extend beyond the court.
However, having three classes of older teammates at her disposal, Stuhlreyer has adjusted to her new responsibilities. At practice, Stuhlreyer and her fellow freshmen prod upperclassmen for advice, both about basketball and about life at Harvard.
“I am very excited to be in the position that I am because I am constantly challenged by the older girls,” Stuhlreyer said. “I can see my game improve because I am playing against such good competition in practice.”
“We have some incredibly talented freshmen that we’re looking at that we can play in the four spot,” Delaney-Smith said.
The freshmen add to the depth of the team’s frontcourt, which was key last season and will most likely prove essential this year.
Levy, another freshman forward, has long awaited getting on the floor at Lavietes Pavilion. In her senior year, Levy led her high school from Boca Raton, Fla., to its first-ever state title. The McDonald’s All-American nominee has recovered from a knee fracture this summer. The experience has only added to her desire to see action on the court.
“Coming back from my first real injury has been tough,” Levy said. “But having been cleared, I’m really excited for what the future holds.”
Tworek, the youngest of four siblings from Chicago, Ill., was playing soccer and volleyball going into high school before deciding to focus on basketball. This decision proved wise, as she led her team to the state tournament three straight years.
Bush, who started four years on the varsity team from Bishop Blanchet High School in Seattle, Wash., has enjoyed the close bonds formed on her team. Having played three years of high school ball alongside her younger sister, who is still on the West Coast, the rookie has compensated for the absence of her sibling by forming other close bonds.
“The closeness of our team makes the fact that I am attending school across the country from my home much easier,” Bush said.
Bush is not the only new freshman far from her home. Matilda Salen, the lone guard in the freshman class, traveled over 3,700 miles from home to Harvard. Salen grew up in Stockholm, Sweden, before coming across the pond to study and play in Cambridge.
Salen has been playing basketball since she was eight years old on a variety of club teams and on the Sweden U16, U17, U18, and U20 national teams. In 2016, Salen’s U18 team won the European Championship. She has found her experience playing for the Crimson vastly different from that at home, however.
“We don’t have high school or college teams in Sweden,” Salen explained. “So I’ve never played with people I’ve practiced with at school before…. It’s better for the team dynamic.”
Playing at the demanding collegiate level and balancing academics is a new and challenging experience for all of the freshmen, since academics are the top priority at Harvard.
“Academically, it’s more challenging than I’m used to,” Salen explained. “Everything works differently than in Sweden.”
Integrating into a new team and a new environment is never an easy task, but this group of talented players has made the effort to connect with their teammates and become a cohesive whole.
“Bringing in a class of five is always a challenge,” captain Kirby Porter said. “But I think that as a group, they’ve done such an amazing job this preseason of getting acclimated and really giving their all out on the court and showing what they’re capable of.”
Just a week removed from the season opener against Dayton, the freshmen are moving out of the transition stage and into the regular season.
“This is the first time for all of us playing with them, so we’re all excited as we move into our season,” said Porter. “I’m still looking forward to seeing how much they will contribute this year, which I think will be a lot.”