Tiger Women’s Hoops Tops Penn in Ivy Opener As Meyers Showing Signs of Regaining Form
BACK IN THE GAME: Princeton University women’s basketball player Abby Meyers drives to the basket during her freshman season in 2017-18. Meyers missed all of last season because of an academic violation and her return this season wasdelayed by a knee injury. Last Saturday, sophomore guard Meyers contributed 14 points off the bench as Princeton defeated Penn 75-55 in the Ivy League opener for both teams. The 25th-ranked Tigers, now 13-1 overall and 1-0 Ivy, are on exam break and return to action when they play at Dartmouth on January 31. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)
By Justin Feil
Abby Meyers isn’t back where she wants to be yet, but just being back at Princeton University and contributing again to the women’s basketball team is significant.
“It’s going to be a process,” said Meyers. “I’m not going to be the best I can be tomorrow or the week after. It’s a gradual process.”
The process took a big step forward last Saturday when the sophomore guard scored 14 points off the bench — 10 in the fourth quarter — to help the Tigers open Ivy League play with a 75-55 win at Penn. In a season-high 18 minutes, she shot 6-for-10, had four rebounds, two assists, two steals, and no turnovers.
“I haven’t reached my best yet,” said Meyers, a 6’0 native of Potomac, Md.
“I haven’t reached a good consistent feel when I play. That could be reading the defense, knowing what to do. I’m still getting there. In the Penn game, I had a role, and hopefully it’s going to grow as the coaches trust me more, the players trust me more.”
Meyers missed all of last season because of an academic violation, then her return to the court was delayed further after she reinjured a meniscus in her knee that had been partially torn a year ago while working out in her year away.
“It’s been quite the long journey for me,” said Meyers.
During her time away from Princeton, Meyers worked in Chicago, trained on her own, sharpened her game, and did some traveling. She kept up with the Tigers, who won the Ivy League tournament, but only to a certain degree.
“They had a busy and successful season and you get caught up in that,” said Meyers.
“There’s also a certain level of distance that I wanted to keep. I didn’t watch every single game. I didn’t look at all their stats. It’s tough knowing you could be with them, on the team, going to their games, playing in games, going to the NCAA tournament, but you’re not. They updated me on school and social life.”
Meyers stayed focused on returning to help the team and finish her degree. It was during a workout when she first partially tore her meniscus.
“I kind of overdo things,” said Meyers, who averaged 9.4 points and 3.0 rebounds a game as a freshman in 2017-18. “I go in hyperdrive when I’m not overlooked or taken care of.”
She had surgery to repair the meniscus but was traveling after the New Year and couldn’t fully rehabilitate her knee. She hiked around South America through the spring, and in September she returned to Princeton only to tear the same meniscus worse.
“I missed start of practices and half the preseason,” said Meyers. “It was hard to get back in shape. It was my time to get back in shape. I hadn’t played in a year. I had to re-find the pace and the muscle memory. It’s coming back slowly. The year off, I kept thinking how this year would go for me and I’d be healthy and ready. It’s another bump in the road. The Penn game, it felt great to be out there.”
On top of the physical setback, Meyers had to adjust to new teammates and a new staff as Carla Berube took the helm of the program after Courtney Banghart headed south to coach the University of North Carolina. She was behind in doing both because of the injury.
“The only thing you can control is how much work you put in,” said Meyers.
“It’s continuing to get reps in practice, continuing to play against amazing players in practice and regaining the confidence I had. I’ve been out a year, and it’s a whole new coaching staff. I have to get their trust. The more I practice, the more they can see me play. I want to make a difference for this team. It’s continuing to get reps in practice, which will ultimately translate to games.”
Playing double-digit minutes in the last nine games after a four-minute test of her knee against Iowa on November 20, Meyers is working her way into being a regular contributor for the Tigers.
“She’s a great teammate and wants to play whatever role we need her to play,” said Princeton head coach Berube.
“That’s her role right now. Every player’s role is ever-changing based on what they’re able to do every day in practice and in games. We’re looking forward to seeing how she progresses these three weeks we have off and moving forward. She’s a great weapon to have.”
Princeton’s win over Penn helped it improve to 13-1 in a battle of one-loss teams. And unlike a year ago, the Tigers don’t have to go into their three-week exam break coming off a painful loss that put them behind Penn.
“It’s great to go into the Palestra against a really strong team and win,” said Berube, whose team returns to action when it plays at Dartmouth on January 31.
“Penn has had a great non-conference schedule with a lot of great wins. We knew it was going to be a battle. To get that first conference win was big. We had been off for a while. It was one game and now we’re going to be off for a bit, so it was great to play well in a tough environment and against a really talented, well coached team. To walk out of there with a victory was big.”
Leading just 33-30 at halftime, Princeton put together an 18-4 run to start the third quarter and break the game open. It was a 12-point lead going into the fourth quarter when Meyers did most of her damage. She scored Princeton’s first five points of the quarter and by the time she exited the game, the Tigers were up 20 points.
“Abby is a really talented player,” said Berube. “To have that sort of player to come off our bench with that kind of spark was huge. She played tough against their 2-3 zone, found openings, got into the paint and made some great feeds into our post players and then knocked down some big shots. She had a couple big 3s late third quarter or early fourth quarter that were a huge lift. She was good on both ends. She rebounded the ball well and got some great deflections. It was a great overall performance from her.”
The Tigers owned the inside against Penn with its front line of senior captains Bella Alarie and Taylor Baur combining for 40 points and 24 rebounds. Alarie had 25 points and 11 rebounds and Baur had a career-high 15 points and equaled her career-high with 13 rebounds.
“I thought both Bella and Taylor had really great games; defensively on the boards, on the offensive boards, they were relentless and they got after it,” said Berube.
“They played really hard defensively. They also got some big buckets for us. Taylor was really tough inside. She did a great job with [Penn’s Leah] Parker. She was defending her a lot. She’s sort of our garbage player, so she had points off offensive boards or off dump off passes from our guards or from Bella. She was tough inside and made a lot of those shots. Bella is Bella. She was able to score in a lot of different ways – in transition, from the 3, putbacks, post moves, she has such a great arsenal and a great skill set. They were big. I thought our guards found them well against the Penn 2-3 zone and they were able to finish inside.”
Princeton did not make big changes at halftime to ignite their run. The surge came down to playing a little tougher on defense, focusing on getting the ball inside on offense instead of settling or 3-point jumpers, and going harder for rebounds.
“It came together in that third quarter and kept rolling in the fourth,” said Berube.
“Penn put together some nice runs but we were able to come back and go on our own run which I think comes from an experienced team and they know how to settle themselves and make plays for each other.”
Meyers was thrilled to be a big part of the win and feels like she’s on an uphill trend. Her defense has gotten better and she’s been working to read the game better and connect on her shots and passes.
“As I start to play better, I’ll get more confident,” said Meyers, who is averaging 6.3 points and 2.8 rebounds a contest in 10 appearances. “I’m able to give my all. Things will come more natural. I don’t want to overthink it.”
While Meyers is gaining confidence daily, she is staying patient with herself and her progress. Her knee still gets sore after long practices. She’s not physically where she wants to be yet, but she is coming around as her performance at Penn showed.
“She’s a baller; she really gets after it,” said Berube. “She gets in the gym, gets shots up, works on her defense. She wants to get better every day. She was coming off an injury at the beginning of the season and missed most all of our preseason. When she came back in early December, that was the first time she was playing this whole fall. It’s great that she’s now up to speed, and hopefully this Penn game is just a start to a great season for her.”