Former Columbia star and Princeton assistant coach Megan Griffith was hired in March 2016 to rebuild the Lions women’s basketball program. In her first season, the team opened up the season with a school record winning percentage in nonconference play (10-3, .769) and a program first-ever victory over a Big East opponent (66-64 in overtime over Providence). Ivy League play, though, was not as kind to the Lions, as they ended up losing eight of their last nine and finished tied for seventh place with a 3-11 conference record. As the new season approaches, Griffith has unveiled an ambitious schedule that seeks to toughen the team for league action.
Last year, Columbia’s strengths came from its offense, which was third in the conference (64.4 points per game) and rebounding, where it was first in the conference and 12th nationally in rebounding margin (+ 8.8 rebounds per game). The team was led by junior wing Camille Zimmerman, senior forward Tori Oliver, and sophomore guard Paulina Koerner. Zimmerman led the team and the league in scoring (22.5 points per game), rebounding (9.6 per game), and minutes (37.4 per game), as well as tied for the team lead in assists (2.5 per game). Oliver was second in scoring (10.4 per game), third in rebounding (7.0 per game), third in minutes (29.7 per game), and third in assists (2.1 per game). Koerner was tied for first in assists (2.5 per game), second in minutes (32.3 per game), and third in scoring (7.1 per game).
Zimmerman, who was in the top 50 nationally in eight statistical categories, was a unanimous first-team All-Ivy selection, as well as the All-Met Division 1 Player of the Year. She and Oliver became the first two active Columbia teammates with over 1,000 points and 500 rebounds in their careers.
Unfortunately for the Lions, Oliver has graduated and, according to Columbia Athletics, Koerner has left the team and decided to stay home in Germany. However, the team still has Zimmerman and will be returning junior forward Josie Little. The 6’ 2” San Francisco native had a season-ending concussion prior to Ivy League play last year, but, according to Columbia Athletics, she is expected to play this season. During the nonconference slate, she started 12 of 13 games, averaging 5.4 points and 8.0 rebounds in 19.8 minutes per game. They will be joined by senior guard Paige Tippett, who started 26 of the squad’s 27 games last season, and junior guard/forward Emily Surloff, who help Team USA win a gold medal in the recent Maccabi Games in Israel.
With the significant personnel losses, increased playing time may be available for members of the incoming Class of 2021, including 5’ 8” combo guard Andrea McCormick of Pennsylvania, the #74 rated point guard by ESPN Hoopgurlz, 6’ 3” forward Madison Pack of Florida, a 2016-17 McDonald’s All-America nominee, and 5’ 8” combo guard Riley Casey of Tennessee, a three-point specialist selected to three All-State teams by the Tennessee Sports Writers Association.
To start the season, Columbia will have three return contests against Providence, Richmond, and UMass-Lowell. On November 17, the Lions will host Quinnipiac, the defending MAAC champion and Sweet 16 participant. After a road game at Vermont, the Lions will head to Mexico for Thanksgiving to take part in the Cancun Challenge. In the three games against NCAA Tournament teams, Columbia will face Green Bay from the Horizon League, Mississippi State, the National runner-up, and the PAC-12’s Arizona State. The team will host Boston College, Buffalo, and Hofstra, while visiting UMBC before the fall semester finals. After exams, the Lions will travel to Houston to face the Cougars and Rice, the defending Women’s Basketball Invitational champion. On the way back to New York, the squad will face Hampton University of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference.
Like last year, Columbia will open Ivy League play with five of its first six games on the road. The Lions will start with a visit to Princeton and Penn, on January 12 and 13, to take on the conference’s top two teams from last year. On January 20, the team will face Cornell at home before heading to Ithaca for the return match the following Saturday. Then it’s back on the road to visit Harvard, last year’s third-place team, and Dartmouth on February 2 and 3. The following weekend, Columbia will start four games in a row, and six of its last eight, within the confines of Levien Gymnasium. The Lions will challenge Yale and Brown on February 9 and 10, followed by return contests against Penn and Princeton. On the 23rd and 24th, the squad will travel to Brown and Yale before hosting Dartmouth on March 2 and Harvard for a Senior Night game on the 3rd.
Given the strength of last year’s Ivy Tournament participants, a trip to Philadelphia for the league semifinals will be a challenge for the Lions. However, with one of the nation’s most prolific players, an improving core, a solid recruiting class and a young coach with a championship resume, the Lions have a good chance to improve on last year’s positives as they continue to build the foundation for long-term success.