Vol. LXII, No. 3
Wednesday, January 16, 2008
(Photo by Bill Allen/NJ SportAction)
RETURN ENGAGEMENT: Princeton University womens basketball point guard Jessica Berry dribbles up the floor in a game last season. Berry, who spent the fall studying abroad in England and just returned to the Tiger program last month, got her first start of the season last Saturday against Penn. The junior guard made the most of the chance, scoring 12 points to help Princeton top the Quakers 69-57 in the Ivy opener for both teams. Princeton, now 4-13, is on exam break and wont be in action again until it plays at Dartmouth on February 1 and at Harvard on February 2.
Jessica Berry was on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean this past October when the Princeton University womens basketball team started preseason practice.
The junior, who had been the starting point guard for Princeton the past two seasons, was studying abroad in London after leaving the Tiger hoops program last spring.
Shortly before leaving for London, though, Berrys decision to leave the sport took a different turn when Courtney Banghart took the reins of the Tigers, replacing Richard Barron.
The new coach reached out to Berry over the summer, letting her know the door was open to return to basketball if she had a change of heart.
Last month, Berry returned to campus and rejoined the Tigers. Undergoing a crash basketball conditioning program, Berry regained enough of her game to make brief appearances in Princetons losses to Vanderbilt and Monmouth.
Last Saturday, the reed-thin Berry got the start as Princeton hosted Penn in the Ivy League opener for both teams and the world seemed right again for the struggling Tigers.
Playing 37 minutes, the 57 Berry scored 12 points, capably running the point and helping Princeton go into overdrive as it raced past Penn 69-57 to snap a six-game skid and improve to 4-13.
Afterward, a beaming Berry clearly enjoyed getting the chance to be back in the Ivy fray.
Im just glad to be back on the team, said Berry, an All-Ivy Rookie Team pick in 2005-06 when she helped the Tigers tie for the league title.
Im enjoying having the chance to put on the jersey again. Ive never lost to Penn so its always fun to go against them. Its great rivalry between the schools, going back to the guys.
While Berry focused on her studies in England, she did work in some conditioning to help ease her transition once she was back in her hoops jersey.
I played basketball with some lanky British boys who were pretty thin, said Berry with a laugh. I also ran a marathon when I was over there.
That base of fitness, though, hardly prepared her for the rigors of college basketball.
Ive been running in a straight line for a really long time, running side-to-side was pretty foreign for me, said Berry. After a week of two-a-days, I was feeling in basketball shape again.
Berry has developed a good feeling for Princetons new coaching staff.
The new coaching staff has been great; they make the game fun and enjoyable to play, asserted Berry.
Its all about communication with them. Not only are they really good about explaining to us what they want, they are listeners too. They give us the time of day when you come to the office.
It hasnt taken Berry much time to reconnect with her teammates.
I just want to be able to connect with my teammates on transition, explained Berry.
I want to know when they are going to run and how they like to catch the ball. Ive been practicing with them, so Ive been able to get back into the groove.
Princeton head coach Banghart thought inserting Berry in the starting lineup could help the Tigers find a groove.
Basically we knew we had to score quickly, said Banghart. Caitlin ONeill has been out two days with the flu and we figured shed be out of synch. We told Jess you have to get the ball and push it and thats what she did today.
Banghart also knew that Berry brought experience and hunger to that assignment.
Shes such a gamer; shes tough on herself, added Banghart. She hasnt been with the team for six months and she wants to do whatever she can to contribute right away. I knew that and I could play off that and we could score quickly.
Princetons big scorer in the win over Penn was precocious freshman Addie Micir, who lit up the Quakers for a career-high 22 points.
Penn had her on a visit and they wanted her bad, said Banghart of Micir who was later named as both the Ivy Rookie of the Week and Ivy Player of the Week for her sparkling effort.
Her dad went there and Ive been in her ear all week saying Addie who are you rooting for? Theres no state pride in this game. I think that loosened her up. We recognize that the kid can really play and she really helped us tonight.
The Tigers got help from Meg Cowher, who scored 18 points after a sluggish first half, while Whitney Downs keyed the defensive effort with five steals and six rebounds.
Meg was a little off in the first half, said Banghart. Every possession is a new possession to our team and she is a fighter. Downs wants to be our defensive captain and we told her she needs to make her slides and be in the passing lanes.
The win was important on many levels for a Princeton team that came into the evening mired in a six-game losing streak and is now on exam break.
I think whats critical about tonight is that you have to win your Ivy League home games if you want to be in this fight, said Banghart, whose team will next be in action when it plays at Dartmouth on February 1 and at Harvard on February 2.
Also the fact that we hadnt won in six games, I dont know if our kids realized it but I did. Im so happy we got this win; it came down to execution and riding that current.
Berry, for her part, is looking to do whatever she can to help the Tigers have a special ride this winter.
Coming back to the team I just want to do anything I could to contribute, whether it was getting the water bottles or being a manager, said Berry.
Any time I come out on the court I want to play my heart out of them; Im honored to be their teammate again.
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