With PU Women’s Hoops Returning to Action, Senior Guard Meyers Aiming to Take Leading Role
RETURN TRIP: Princeton University women’s basketball player Abby Meyers looks to unload the ball in a 2018 game. Senior guard Meyers is poised to have a big final campaign for the Tigers. Having not played since March, 2020, Princeton returns to action when it plays at Villanova on November 10 and will have its home opener on November 14 when it hosts Boston University. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)
By Justin Feil
While most of the Princeton University women’s basketball team took a gap year in 2020-21, Abby Meyers was enrolled and on campus last spring.
The Tigers only had four other players there, two of whom were Carlie Littlefield and McKenna Haire, who were polishing up their games to play as graduate students this year at North Carolina and Hawaii, respectively.
Often there were more coaches than players on the floor, but Meyers valued the time with Princeton head coach Carla Berube and her staff, who were still relatively new after coming in 2019.
“It was an interesting dynamic,” said Meyers, a 6’0 senior guard from Potomac, Md. who averaged 6.3 points and 2.7 rebounds a game in the 2019-20 campaign.
“It made me personally appreciate the game more and appreciate being a part of a close-knit community at Princeton because despite not having a season, the faculty there, they were very excited for what was to come next year and now that we’re finally here, the excitement is brewing. It was a great intimate environment and we were able to focus on skills and getting better.”
The small group worked through the one-year anniversary of their 2019-20 season that the COVID-19 pandemic ended after they had compiled a 26-1 record and the Ivy League regular season championship. The 2020-21 season was also canceled by the Ivies due to ongoing safety concerns. Now almost 20 months after they last played, Meyers and the Tigers open their 2021-22 campaign at Villanova on November 10.
“It has been a long time coming, and I’m not just speaking for myself and the team, but probably for all of the Ivy League and for fans and also faculty fellows here at Princeton,” said Meyers. “We have been working extremely hard this preseason.”
The Tigers will be playing for the first time since losing a pair of big names in Littlefield and Bella Alarie, the latter who is in the WNBA with the Dallas Wings while Littlefield completes her final year of NCAA eligibility for former Princeton head coach Courtney Banghart. Meyers and Neenah Young (3.3 points, 1.5 rebounds in 2019-20) are the only seniors on the Princeton roster. Sophomore Ellie Mitchell (5.3 points, 6.3 rebounds) is the only first- or second-year player with any college experience.
“It’s kind of like a whole new team and vibe,” said Berube, whose team will hold its home opener on November 14 when it hosts Boston University.
“Half of them are brand new and never played in a college game. It feels a little like my first year. I didn’t really know them either. It’s exciting. I think they’re picking things up quickly. I feel like every day we’re getting better and moving in the right direction.”
A sizable junior class does have experience and has shown leadership. Maggie Connolly (5.2 points, 1.6 rebounds) and Julia Cunningham (8.2 points, 3.1 rebounds) are captains along with Meyers. Grace Stone (5.8 points, 3.3 rebounds) has experience along with Kira Emsbo and Lexi Weger (1.0 points, 0.7 rebounds).
“There’s definitely some veteran feel,” said Berube. “You can feel there’s experience out there. They know what we’re trying to accomplish on the defensive side of the ball. They know our values and philosophies of communication and the work ethic we need to bring to the court every day. That’s been awesome to have them.”
Meyers was a freshman back in 2017 and remembers the challenges of transitioning from a highly sought-after recruit to contributing in college in her first year. Princeton has potential contributors in sophomore guard/forward Maddie Plank, who did not play her first year due to injury, and Kaitlyn Chen, who will help at a guard spot. Adaora Nwokeji and Amelia Osgood are freshmen guards. Paige Morton, Parker Hill, and Katie Theirs will add some height to the lineup.
“The leadership is trying to take the freshmen under our wing and really show them the reins and teach them and encourage them,” said Meyers.
“The last thing that we want to do is ruin their confidence. We want to grow their confidence first and from there try to improve their overall intellect of the D-I level. It’s a much higher level. All the freshmen know that college basketball is not easy – it’s very hard – and they’ve been working very hard and maintaining that consistency of working hard, it will definitely translate later on in the season.”
Princeton has been working to bring its entire roster up to speed on their points of emphasis and brand of play. It’s comparable to Berube’s first year when the entire roster was new to her style.
“We keep looking back at our practices and thinking about how slowly we had to take it, from ground zero with 1 through 15 that year,” said Berube.
“We’re not having to do that. But there are seven newcomers and there is a lot to teach them and a lot for them to learn and grasp and how quickly they need to pick things up. It’s not the entire team. They come to work every single day and they’re really coachable and they’re great teammates. I’d say things are happening a little faster than the first year, but we’re still having to break things down a lot.”
Princeton has until January 2 when they open Ivy play to sort out their lineup and rotations. The Tigers were voted tops in the Ivy League preseason poll by the media. Princeton won the Ivies in 2017-18, 2018-19 and 2019-20.
“I think there’s going to be some kinks that need to be worked out,” said Berube.
“There will be some roles being defined. It’s going to be a work in progress. We certainly don’t think we’ll be playing our best basketball in November or December. You just want to make strides every day, every game and get better and hopefully play your best basketball in the Ivy season in February and March. We just have to take it day by day, step by step and be patient. There’s definitely rust.”
Berube credited Meyers with developing her skills over the program’s break from games. Meyers has worked to develop her all-around game to add to a strong repertoire of offensive abilities. She is expected to take on a larger role after playing in 23 games off the bench in Berube’s first year. On top of her playing skills, this year Meyers takes on new responsibility as a team captain, and tries to carry on a strong tradition from past leaders.
“One person’s name I’ve been repeating constantly especially growing into this leadership role is Leslie Robinson,” said Meyers.
“She was a really meaningful player, friend, mentor and buddy my freshman year who is an amazing leader. I try to mimic my leadership skills and use what I learned from her and pass that onto the freshmen in teaching them the things she taught me.”
To get there, Meyers had to be more aware of her attitude. She worked at bringing positive energy to every day over the 20 months off, and she expects that intangible improvement to help lend confidence to her play.
“That’s a big one that not many people think about,” said Meyers. “Of course, having a rocky four years, my attitude was definitely fluctuating a lot, but now this year I realize this is my last year and my team and I have to be consistent emotionally, mentally, and with my attitude for them.”
Meyers and the Tigers will get their first test in the non-conference opener. Villanova has been a perennially strong team and they did play last year to give them a leg up. Princeton, though, has been counting down the days until it resumes.
“I think we’re all very excited because we have been fine-tuning our defense, our offense, our plays so that we can really show how we’ve been working hard in the past almost two years,” said Meyers.
“We’re going to have some emotions flying around, we’re going to be excited and a little nervous before the game, but I think that it’ll all come back to us like muscle memory when we start playing a real game again.”