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Vol. LXII, No. 10
 
Wednesday, March 5, 2008
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FINAL APPROACH: Princeton University women’s basketball senior star Meg Cowher fights for post position in a recent game. Last Saturday, Cowher celebrated Senior Night by scoring eight points as Princeton beat Yale 64-59 in her final Jadwin Gym appearance. In upcoming action, Princeton, now 7-20 overall and 4-7 in Ivy League action, plays at Columbia on March 7, at Cornell on March 8 and at Penn on March 11.

Cowher Struggles Offensively on Senior Night; Leads Cheers as PU Women’s Hoops Tops Yale

Bill Alden

It looked like last Saturday was destined to be Meg Cowher’s night.

The Princeton University senior women’s basketball star was honored along with classmate Ali Prichard on Senior Night as the two played their last game at Jadwin Gym.

The 6’1 Cowher came into the night with 1,581 points, looking to become just the fourth player in program history to hit the 1,600 mark as the Tigers hosted Yale.

In the opening moments, Cowher was on fire, scoring Princeton’s first six points as the Tigers took a 6-2 lead over the Bulldogs.

But then things fizzled for Cowher as she got in foul trouble and she was relegated to the bench.

Rather than sulking, Cowher led the cheers as Princeton battled back from a 20-11 deficit to narrow the Yale lead to 28-27 at the half.

In the second half, Cowher spent 10 minutes on the bench and was held scoreless. But she channeled her energy into high-fives and yelps from the pine as Princeton battled back from a nine-point deficit to pull out a 64-59 win to improve to 7-20 overall and 4-7 in Ivy League play.

For Cowher, seeing her team come through outweighed any disappointment stemming from her off night. “Getting a win is much more important than me having how many points on my last night,” said Cowher, who ended up with eight points on the evening, far below her scoring average of 17.0.

“It’s a good feeling. We started fast and I was able to score a little bit inside. Then our two freshmen (Krystal Hill and Shelbie Pool) pulled it out and I was watching from the bench. I really enjoyed it.”

Princeton collectively got a boost from the Senior Night festivities. “Our team came out really fired up and really emotional tonight,” said Cowher, who had scored 16 points on Friday as Princeton beat Brown 67-59.

“We kind of walked out there and said this is our Ivy League playoff. We don’t get a chance to compete for the NCAA bid but that doesn’t mean we are going to lie down. We really wanted to make sure that we ended our last home stretch here at Jadwin on a positive note.”

In Cowher’s view, the Tigers’ weekend sweep, the team’s first of the season, is a harbinger of good things to come. “It’s been a transitional year and we have had our ups and downs,” added Cowher. “We end it here with good feelings. I think this team is on the way up and next year will be a real good one for them.”

In reflecting on her Princeton experience, Cowher said that she learned some important lessons from being part of the Tiger hoops team.

“These four years of anyone’s life are extremely formative,” said Cowher. “Being part of a team like this has made me grow up and has taught me about myself in a lot of ways. I just know that everything I have gone through with these girls has made me a better person.”

While Cowher pointed to the team’s record-breaking 2005-06 season as a highlight, she said down moments of her career were beneficial as well.

“Competitively that was a really special season,” recalled Cowher, who was a first-team All-Ivy player as Princeton went a program-best 21-7 and tied Brown and Dartmouth for the Ivy regular season title.

“Our seniors were such a strong class of leaders. I think we really came together. Every year has something unique about it. You learn just as much from the downs as you learn from the ups.”

This winter, Cowher has tried to be a strong senior leader as Princeton has adjusted to new head coach Courtney Banghart.

“It’s always tough to be in your senior year and have a new coaching staff come in,” said Cowher.

“You are trying to lead the team through that transition. Our staff has been amazing. I just wish I could play four more years here with them.”

Princeton head coach Banghart credited Cowher and Prichard with showing senior leadership this weekend.

“I told them what I am really proud of is winning two games when the Ivy title is not up for grabs,” said Banghart.

“They just competed because we had a chance to win at home. I’m really glad our seniors kept the ship righted and made it about a chance to sweep at home and not just about playing it out until we finish.”

Although Banghart came to the gym Saturday expecting Cowher to have a big night statistically, she wasn’t surprised by the character displayed by her senior forward as things didn’t go her way.

“I wish things had gone differently for Meg tonight,” said Banghart.

“Meg is the kind of kid who doesn’t care about that, she just wants us to get a win. She is a true teammate; she just wants to win and she doesn’t care how we do it. If she had to score 30 to do it, she’ll try. If she has to be on the bench in foul trouble, she doesn’t care.”

Prichard’s performance put a smile on Banghart’s face. “I’m happy for Prich’s effort,” said Banghart of Prichard, who scored 10 points and had six rebounds in the win over Yale as she made the 106th appearance in her Princeton career.

“She has played hard even though things haven’t always gone her way. She was absolutely critical for us yesterday, she had to guard a guard. Tonight she had the help role, playing help defense, getting offensive and defensive rebounds.”

Freshmen Krystal Hill and Shelbie Pool gave Princeton a lot of help as it held off Yale down the stretch. Hill led Princeton with 15 points and nine rebounds and was later named the Ivy League Rookie of the Week for her efforts over the weekend. Pool scored nine points, including two crucial three-pointers in the last 1:35 of the game.

“They are feisty, they are competitive,” asserted Banghart. “I keep telling Shelbie that she has to keep looking to score. The contribution from those kids was tremendous all weekend long.”

Banghart saw the contributions across the board as a sign that Princeton is getting on the same page offensively. “I think our offense is growing up,” said Banghart, whose team scored 37 points in the second half of the win over Yale.

“We were looking to attack. We showed maturity with Meg getting sidelined for most of the second half. She has been our anchor the last four years and I thought it showed that we have a lot of team guts to compete without our star out there.”

Banghart is hoping that her team can show more guts as it wraps up the season with games at Columbia on March 7, at Cornell on March 8, and at Penn on March 11.

“It’s not about the title, it’s about playing good basketball,” said Banghart.

“Now we have a chance to go on the road and we don’t want to be swept by teams. We have a chance to get a split with Columbia and Cornell, that would go a long way for us.”

While Cowher is proud of her statistical achievements, she is more focused on seeing the Tigers add some more victories to the ledger.

“I think it’s great that I have been able to do that with the help of everyone,” said Cowher. “Right now I just want to make sure that we get as many wins as we can.”

After Princeton, Cowher will be looking to help another team gain some victories as she will be joining the Teach For America program.

“I met someone here who is a representative of the organization,” said Cowher.

“I am really impressed with the organization and I feel that while I’m still young, energetic, and idealistic, that I wanted to go out here and make a difference.”

And through her skill and character, Cowher has certainly made a difference for the Princeton women’s hoops program.

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