November 7, 2018

Despite Being Hit with Adversity in Preseason, PU Women’s Hoops Optimistic Going Into 2018-19

COURT IN SESSION: Princeton University women’s basketball head coach Courtney Banghart, right, makes a point at the program’s annual media day last Thursday in Jadwin Gym as senior star Sydney Jordan listens attentively. Princeton is slated to get its 2018-19 campaign underway by playing at Rider on November 6 and at George Washington in November 11. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

As the Princeton University women’s basketball team prepares for the 2018-19 campaign, it has adopted the theme of “Rise as One.”

But rising to the heights achieved last winter when Princeton went 24-6 overall, 12-2 Ivy League and winning the league’s postseason tournament may be harder as the team’s No. 1 player, junior forward Bella Alarie (13.3 points and 9.4 rebounds a game last winter on the way to being named Ivy Player of the Year), is currently sidelined with a broken arm.

In addition, the Tigers already lost the services of sophomore sharpshooter Abby Meyers (9.4 points, 3.0 rebounds), who will be taking a year away from school due to a “misunderstanding” regarding a group project in a computer science course.

Princeton head coach Courtney Banghart likes the way her players have dealt with the early setbacks.

“These are climbers,” said Banghart, whose squad was slated to get its 2018-19 campaign underway by playing at Rider on November 6 and at George Washington in November 11.

“They get handed adversity and there’s no sulk, no ‘woe is me’. There’s not even a rah-rah about next man up. Individually they’re just climbing their own journey. I think the senior leadership has been both by example and by consistency with their voice. We’ve been following their leads. Then there’s the youthful energy of the incoming kids.”

One of those seniors, co-captain Sydney Jordan (5.0 points, 2.7 rebounds), is ready to take a bigger leadership role on the court.

“All of us are realizing we’re going to have to score more,” said Jordan. “That’s a big thing that Coach has been getting on – making sure we’re aggressive. Then Bella’s leadership on the court, she’s been doing that, especially last year, talking more, and so for all of us, that means talking more on defense, bringing other people along. It all goes back to Rise as One and making sure everyone is in it together to reach our goals.”

Sophomore point guard Carlie Littlefield (8.3 points, 3.3 rebounds) is ready to speak up this winter.

“The biggest area I’ve been working on this year is using my voice to lead,” said Littlefield. “I’m obviously not the new kid on the block this year. I have experience, and we don’t have many kids with experience. I think my biggest role this year is to use my voice on and off the court.”

Banghart believes that Littlefield will bring a lot more than talk to the Tigers.

“I think Carlie is much more of a scoring threat from all three dimensions – from 3-point range, and mid-range and then at the rim,” asserted Banghart.

“She knew that as soon as she lost her running mate, Abby. She’s much more of a scoring threat. Maybe that’s not being the new kid on the block and maybe it’s the recognition of what we need from her. Her shot chart is a lot more diverse than any point last season.”

The team’s group of seniors Gabrielle Rush (6.1 points, 2.5 rebounds), Qalea Ismail (4.0 points, 1.4 rebounds), and Jordan bring diverse skills to the table.

“Syd’s the kid everyone should want on their team. She does everything you’d want, and she’s a winner,” said Banghart.

“She’s a quintessential teammate. And then you’ve got Gabrielle who’s such a great shooter and she’s really expanded her game and is willing to create off the dribble more. She has the urgency of a senior, she wants her team in her senior year to be really good. That’s not a thing you can turn on and off, and her competitive spirit has led the way. Qalea continues to work to get back in health-wise. Her speed is a game-changing element. For her, who has had to consistently lead by example, I think the urgency of seniors is hard to replicate.”

The arrival of touted freshmen Grace Stone, Neenah Young, Maggie Connolly, Kira Emsbo, Julia Cunningham, and Lexi Weger could be a game-changer for the Tigers.

“This freshman class has been as talented as we’d hoped,” said Banghart. “We knew it was a good class. It’s been nationally heralded, but they’re freshmen, and they can’t hide because there’s four of them on each team in practice. I could go down the next. I’m expecting to use all of them a lot. You’ll see all of them early and often.”

Getting steeled by adversity in the early going should make Princeton more formidable as the season unfolds.

“What I’m intrigued is to see how good we’ll be when we get fully healthy,” said Banghart.

“You’re taking away some givens with what Bella brings and you’re asking other people to step in those roles. When she comes back, now look at the experience we have in subbing in and replacing her and giving her time. We’ll be a better team when it’s all said and done.”