Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIII, No. 10
Wednesday, March 11, 2009
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STRONG FINISH: Princeton University women’s basketball senior forward Julia Berger goes strong to the basket in a game earlier this season. Last weekend, Berger came up big in her final two games at Jadwin Gym, helping the Tigers to a 68-63 win over Columbia on Friday and a 76-55 victory over Cornell a day later on Senior Night. The triumphs lifted Princeton to 13-14 overall and 8-5 in Ivy League play, thereby clinching third place in the league standings. The Tigers were slated to end their season by playing at Penn on March 10.

With Berger Saving Her Best for Last, PU Women’s Hoops Clinches 3rd in Ivies

Bill Alden

It has taken a lot of toil and tribulation but Julia Berger was ready to shine in crunch time last Friday as the Princeton University women’s basketball team battled Columbia.

Princeton senior forward Berger, who had just five starts in her first three seasons with the Tigers before emerging as a solid contributor this winter, was determined to do whatever her team needed with the score tied at 61-61 and 1:37 left in the second half.

“This year is the first year I have played a lot so this is the part of the season where I finally have some experience under my belt,” said the 6’1 Berger, a native of Chatham, N.J.

“We have lost so many close games; it just reaches a point where we are just not losing this.”

Displaying her savvy and will, Berger dished for a sweet assist on a Devona Allgood bucket that gave Princeton a 65-63 lead and then grabbed a rebound on the defensive end as the Tigers ended up pulling out a 68-63 win.

At halftime, it didn’t appear that Berger and her teammates were going to have the opportunity to produce some drama as the Tigers trailed 35-23.

“They outhustled us, they outplayed us in the first half,” said Berger, reflecting on the first half which saw Columbia reel off a 25-5 run to build its halftime cushion.

“That is embarrassing when that happens to you in your own gym. We have a lot of pride in our program and that is just unacceptable. We just needed to work harder.”

With a tongue-lashing from head coach Courtney Banghart ringing in their ears, the Tigers chipped away at the Columbia lead, going on a 27-16 run to knot the game at 61-61 and seize momentum going into the waning moments of the contest.

“We came out in the second half and everyone picked it up,” recalled Berger, who ended the game with four points, four rebounds, and six assists.

“We started attacking; we became the aggressors rather than just being passive. It was just an awesome team effort.”

It has taken team tri-captain Berger a herculean effort to make herself into a starter for the Tigers.

“Playing on this team is about being part of something that is bigger than yourself,” said Berger, who is averaging 4.0 points and 4.1 rebounds a game this season.

“Even when I was not on the court, I tried to find everything I could do to contribute. It has been great to finally get out there this year.”

In the process, Berger has learned some lessons that will serve her well off the court.

“Playing four years of Ivy basketball and balancing the academics with it is a really tough experience,” said Berger, whose father, John Berger, played for the Princeton men’s hoops team in the early 1970s.

“It has taught me so much about myself. I have really developed as a person here.”

Berger likes the way the Tigers have developed as a team in bouncing back from a 2007-08 season that saw them go just 4-10 in Ivy League play, good for a tie for sixth in the league standings.

“Right now we are fighting for third place in the league,” said Berger, who scored five points and had three rebounds on Saturday as Princeton posted a 76-55 win over defending league champs Cornell on Senior Night to improve to 13-14 overall and 8-5 in Ivy play, clinching third place in the process.

“People thought we were going to end up seventh in the league. Winning these two games would be a great way to go out and then finishing off things Tuesday (at Penn) and coming in third would be great.”

Princeton head coach Banghart is proud of the great progress Berger has made in her college career.

“I would say Julia that is the most improved player this program has ever seen,” asserted Banghart.

“She has just gotten it through hard work; she got her body in better condition; she really studied the game. She is willing to do whatever it takes, diving on loose balls, getting an assist, getting a rebound, dribbling the ball up the floor. She just has a will to win that has come out because she has taken every small step to get better.”

Berger and her fellow seniors, co-captains Whitney Downs and Caitlin O’Neill together with Jessica Berry, have helped the program take some big steps forward.

“The impact the four seniors have had on our program, particularly in the last two years is indescribable,” said Banghart.

“They have been our security blanket for my whole two years here. The rookies just really admire them so there is a lot of emotion here.

The Tigers’ dramatic rally against Columbia triggered a lot of emotion.

“It was a total team effort,” said Banghart, who got 23 points from Addie Micir in the win over the Lions with freshmen Devona Allgood and Lauren Edwards chipping in 13 and 10, respectively.

“When kids were really tired, new kids came in and gave us a little spark. Everyone gave us a little something and the people who never got in were very very supportive, calling out the plays. This is a team in every sense of the word. When we play like it, we are tough to beat. We didn’t play like it until the second half tonight.”

With their teamwork Saturday night in the victory over Cornell, Princeton showed why it has climbed up to third the Ivy standings behind frontrunner Dartmouth and second place Harvard.

“It is absolutely huge considering that we won four league games last year,” said Banghart, reflecting on the team’s third-place finish.

“In the past 10 years, this team has had only one winning Ivy record and we are going to do it. It will be good for the seniors to know that they have left this program in better shape than when they came in. It means absolutely everything to us.”

For Berger, it has meant a lot to be part of that process. “This program, this team, and the people associated with it are truly phenomenal and truly special people,” said Berger.

“I feel incredibly lucky to be associated with them. Over the years, when it gets tough that’s what you find strength in.”

And with the toughness she has displayed, Berger has established herself as one of the special people to come through the program.

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