Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXI, No. 45
Wednesday, November 7, 2007
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CHART-BUSTER: Princeton University senior tri-captain Meagan Cowher moves to the hoop in action last winter. The 6’1 Cowher comes into the season with 1,139 points, the 11th most in program history. Cowher, a two-time All-Ivy pick, scored 17.7 points per game overall last winter and 18.5 in Ivy play to lead the league in scoring.

With Arrival of Rookie Head Coach Banghart, Tiger Women’s Hoops Primed for Fresh Start

Bill Alden

Courtney Banghart has captured the full attention of her players on the Princeton University women’s basketball team.

The upbeat 29-year-old rookie head coach has been a breath of fresh air for the program since taking over for Richard Barron last spring.

The Tiger players were ready for a change after enduring a tough 13-15 season under the fiery Barron, who left the program to take a job as the associate head coach of the Baylor women’s team.

Banghart, a former star player for Dartmouth who was an assistant coach for her alma mater before coming to Princeton, likes the focus she is seeing in her new charges.

“The players have totally bought into the new energy around the program,” said Banghart, who will make her head coaching debut when Princeton plays at nationally-ranked Maryland on November 9 in the Preseason WNIT.

“You can hear a pin drop when I am talking to them; we have a high level of concentration. We have been holding long practices and there is no eye-turning and nobody watching the clocks.”

Banghart, for her part, is relishing her new role as she guides the players and works with her new assistant coaches Melanie Halker and Milena Flores. “I’m having the time of my life,” asserted Banghart.

“I was thinking if I could get one of those two as my assistant, I wouldn’t care who the other coach is; it’s great to have both. They are high-energy people with a passion for the game. They are very good teachers. We work a lot. We are on the way up, not on the way down.”

How far Princeton can move up from last season when it went 7-7 in Ivy League play to tie for fourth in the league may well depend on the production of senior co-captain Meg Cowher in the post.

Cowher, a two-time All-Ivy pick, scored 17.7 points per game overall last winter and 18.5 in Ivy play to lead the league in scoring.

“Meg has a knack for the ball and a knack for scoring,” said Banghart of the 6’1 Cowher, who comes into the season with 1,139 points, the 11th most in program history.

“I’ve watched Meg for the last three years, she has athleticism and quickness to the ball but she always goes right. Even though everyone knows that, she is good enough to score. She is working on getting her back to the basket and going left or right. Meg wants to be coached. It is not often when the star player is the hardest worker.”

Princeton is looking to get some good work down low from such other players as junior Julia Berger and sophomores Elizabeth Pietrzak and Cheryl Stevens.

“Cheryl has a big body at 6’3 and was our most improved player over the fall,” said Banghart. “Pietrzak is a good face-up player and can hit the outside shot.”

One of Princeton’s top outside threats is senior co-captain Ali Prichard, who will fill a swing role for the Tigers, playing down low and on the perimeter.

“Ali is really, really learning our offense fast,” said Banghart of Prichard, who averaged 6.1 points a game last season and canned 26 three-pointers.

“She is good at setting other people up. Her goal this year is to make others around her better. She can do that by scoring to take some pressure off of Meg or by setting picks and opening things up for others.”

Two other key “tweener” players figure to be senior Katy Digovich and junior Whitney Downs. “She plays the game very hard; she is strong and aggressive,” said Banghart of the 6’0 Digovich.

“We will try to keep her at forward; she can defend well. Whitney is a true student of the game; she is our best on-ball defender. She was constrained in last year’s offense. We have a much more fluid offense which involves a lot of reading and reacting. She moves well without the ball and you can’t teach that.”

The Tigers have two willing students in junior shooting guard and co-captain Caitlin O’Neill and sophomore point guard Tani Brown, who was hampered by a knee injury last year.

“We’re trying to get her to shoot the ball more,” said Banghart. “She is a co-captain as a junior so that shows what her teammates think about her. Tani has recovered from her ACL injury. She will start at point guard; she is working on her decision-making at the position. She sees it as a place to learn.”

Princeton will need freshman guards Shelbie Pool and Addie Micir to be quick learners as they will likely be thrown into the action.

“Shelbie is a face-up shooter; she is a lefty and that makes her harder to guard,” said Banghart.

“Addie can hit the three-pointer and she has good post moves. She can shoot, pass, and dribble. She was recruited by Villanova and you can see why because all of their players are like that.”

Banghart is looking for all of her players to focus on improving their fundamentals on a daily basis.

“We want to build our foundation on mental and physical toughness; we want to play the game hard and play together,” asserted Banghart.

“We are not outcome-based, we more concerned about the process and getting better everyday. The 28 games don’t make the season; it’s those days in practice when you get better at things. We have full control over how we get better. We’ll be better in February than we were in October.”

The first step of that process comes against powerful Maryland, the 2006 NCAA champions. “They are very, very experienced, they have just about everybody from the team that won the NCAA,” said Banghart.

“They led the nation in scoring last year and were fourth in rebounding. We could lose by 40 and it could be positive if we play hard. We have to have a swagger and a toughness whenever we play no matter who it is against.”

And if Princeton can show that swagger, they will get the attention of their foes this winter.

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