Blake Dietrick was a one-dimensional player last winter in her freshman season on the Princeton University women’s basketball team, focusing mainly on providing some production from the perimeter.
But with senior point guard Lauren Polansky having been slowed recently by a nagging foot injury, Dietrick has diversified her portfolio.
“I think last year I was primarily a three-point shooter; that was the role that was expected of me on the team,” said the 5’10 Dietrick, a native of Wellesley, Mass.
“This year, I have taken more of a point guard role, so I am getting my teammates involved and getting other people shots, doing things like that.”
In a 74-59 win over Drexel last week, Dietrick displayed her versatility, scoring five points with seven rebounds, a career-high five steals, and three assists in 31 minutes of action.
“I am trying to do more than just score points,” said Dietrick, who is averaging 6.7 points a game overall this season and 9.4 over the team’s last five contests.
“I am stepping into some very big shoes to fill with LP [Polansky] down. I am trying to step up as much as I can because she is really, really good defensively.”
With Dietrick having started four games in a row for the 8-5 Tigers, she is starting to feel more comfortable in that role.
“We mix up the teams in practice so I am playing with everybody,” said Dietrick, who has 30 assists on the season.
“I feel like the more confident I become, the more people trust me. At first, I felt like I was faking it a little bit, trying to be as confident as possible. I feel like I am getting a lot more confident, playing to my strengths in the offense.”
Dietrick acknowledges that she is a stronger athlete due to playing lacrosse in high school. She graduated as the all-time leading scorer at Wellesley High, male or female, with 436 points and twice earned All American honors.
“My dad played lacrosse in college and he thinks lacrosse is basketball with sticks,” said Dietrick.
“I think the cutting and the defense is definitely very similar. I am actually playing lacrosse this year for Princeton. I didn’t play last year so I am really excited to get back into it. I have been playing wall ball but I am focused on basketball right now obviously and when lacrosse comes, it comes. I am really excited to be back to both.”
Princeton head coach Courtney Banghart is excited by the progress she is seeing in Dietrick.
“For Blake, last year when she didn’t shoot well, she didn’t play well,” said Banghart.
“I think now she realizes she is a more versatile player than that. She’s been really important to our continued progress. She is more confident; you need game minutes. She is surrounded by people who believe in her and she has also gotten better. She doesn’t take a play off. She is better off the dribble, she is better settling into our offense, she is better against pressure. She is also a year better than she was last season.”
The Tigers got better and better as the game went on against Drexel, going from an early 15-12 lead to a 35-21 halftime advantage.
“I didn’t think we played as well today as we could have but we are still better than we were two weeks ago,” said Banghart.
“If they can keep doing that, we will be pretty good by February. We are just going to keep our eyes on the prize and that is still progress. We are not going to worry about any one opponent yet. Right now it is getting better, it is getting healthy, it is individuals getting better.”
Senior star Niveen Rasheed certainly gave Drexel plenty to worry about, scoring a game-high 20 points in the victory with four rebounds, two assists, and two steals.
“Niveen was fantastic; she changes the game,” said Banghart of Rasheed, who was later named the Ivy League Co-Player of the Week along with Harvard’s Christine Clark.
“The way she rebounds, the way she defends, the way she pushes the pace, the way she is playing within rhythm offensively. She played fantastic and it does get lost in the shuffle because she is so selfless. She doesn’t care about her own numbers, she is more active on the bench than she is on the floor. I thought she played one of her better games, which is good. It is a new offense for her too.”
With Princeton starting Ivy League play by hosting Penn on January 12, Banghart believes her team is well positioned as it goes after its fourth straight league title.
“I like this group a lot,” asserted Banghart. “If you look at last year’s statistics compared to this year’s. we are scoring more this year and we are turning the ball over less. We have more assists so we are sharing the ball well. We have a lot of those key contributors who aren’t playing, whether it is via injury or graduation. So we have had people step up who are doing it for the first time. We are adding a lot of people at once into our lineup so given their lack of experience and given our new offense, I couldn’t be happier. They have a chance to be special.”
Dietrick, for her part, is ready to keep stepping up when the Tigers get into league action.
“I am just trying to be as aggressive as I can because that is the way LP plays and the team feeds off of that, especially from the point guard position,” said Dietrick.
“So I think if I can be able to do that, I can get the team really more into an aggressive mindset and that will help us down the road, especially in the Ivy League where I think we are a little more athletic than our opponents.”