While Kristen Helmstetter and Blake Dietrick were both in uniform when the Princeton University women’s basketball fell to Kansas State in the NCAA tournament last March, neither of them saw any action in the contest.
As ninth-seeded Princeton prepared to face eighth-seeded Florida State in the first round of the 2013 NCAA tourney last Sunday, junior forward Helmstetter and sophomore guard Dietrick knew they both would have a chance to shine on the national stage.
Helmstetter broke into the starting lineup in late November due to an knee injury suffered by Nicole Hung and emerged as a second-team All Ivy League performer, averaging 9.0 points and 4.9 rebounds per game. Dietrick, for her part, saw extra playing time due to senior Lauren Polansky’s struggles with foot problems and became a key perimeter threat, averaging 8.0 points a game and leading the Tigers in three-pointers with 52.
In reflecting on the matchup against Florida State, Helmstetter drew on what she gained from last year’s trip to the NCAAs.
“The tournament is a great experience, no matter what, whether you play or not,” said the 6’0 Helmstetter, a Jersey native from nearby Bridgewater.
“Just going in there and seeing how hard our team played last year. To get to be a part of it this year hopefully, to play with so much heart and get on the court and make a difference is really important.”
For Dietrick, the chance to get into the fray at March Madness stirred her emotions. “I didn’t feel that the loss last year hit me as hard as it did the upperclassmen which makes sense because they were more invested in terms of time because they had been there so long,” said the 5’10 Dietrick, a native of Wellesley, Mass.
“It was my first year and I was so new to the the program. I am ready to feel that emotion and be that passionate about this game and want it that badly.”
While the Florida State game didn’t turn out well for Princeton as the Tigers lost 60-44, both Helmstetter and Dietrick made solid contributions. Helmstetter scored four points and had a team-high nine rebounds along with senior Niveen Rasheed. Dietrick tied Rasheed for the team-high in points with nine, banging in a trio of three-pointers.
Helmstetter’s performance exemplified the progress she has made this winter. “I think this season gave me a lot more confidence in myself and my game,” maintained Helmstetter.
“Our teammates are so supportive in helping each other and working together on the court. I think we have gotten a lot better since the beginning of the year. I am definitely excited to get out there and contribute.
The effort by Dietrick against the Seminoles likewise reflected the growth in her game. “I think I have definitely tried to expand my game and not just be a three-point shooter which is what my role was last year,” said Dietrick.
“I think with LP [Polansky] being injured a little bit in the middle of the season that definitely helped me to take on more of that point guard role and not play as much as a two guard so I am excited to get my teammates involved, push the pace, do all the things that a point guard is expected to do and hopefully defend as well as LP does when I am in there.”
In Helmstetter’s view, the Tigers were excited to give their all against Florida State for seniors Meg Bowen, Kate Miller, Rasheed, and Polansky.
“Most definitely, I think a lot of this is about our senior class,” said Helmstetter.
“They have earned this. It is their fourth trip and for them to go out with a win would mean the most in the entire world to us and to them.”
Although the Tigers didn’t get that win, the play of Helmstetter and Dietrick could result in more trips to the NCAA for Princeton.