With a fourth place finish, an appearance in the inaugural Ivy Tournament, and a postseason win in the first round of the 2017 Women’s Basketball Invitational, things looked bright for the Brown women’s team heading into 2017-2018. The Bears, which did not lose a single member of the previous year’s squad, were picked fourth in the league’s preseason poll and there was talk among Ivy fans that this group could be the first since 2011-2012 to break the Harvard-Penn-Princeton stranglehold on the conference’s top three spots.
A 9-1 start, including Tournament titles at the University of Pacific and the Ocean State Tip-Off, added to the program’s confidence as it returned from finals to visit Boston University on December 22nd. Up 28 points with 3:22 remaining in the third quarter, starting three-guard Taylor Will came off the court with a knee injury and did not return to action for the rest of the year. While Brown defeated the Terriers, Howard University and Johnson & Wales to complete its non-conference scheduled with a program-best 12-1 record, the Bears aura of invincibility had been shattered.
Brown struggled to a 2-6 start to league play. Over the season’s last three weekends, the Bears could only earn one win against Cornell, despite hosting four games at the Pittzitola Center. A once promising season ended with a 15-12 overall record and a 3-11 sixth place finish in the Ancient Eight.
Following the season, the Bears lost 3 players and 2 assistant coaches. Janie White and Megan Reilly graduated, while rising junior Randi Richardson appears to have left the team. White, who started 27 of 28 games, was first in the league with 2.9 blocks per game and fifth in rebounding with 7.6 a contest. Her 78 total blocks were second-most in a single season for a Brown player and her 203 career rejections were fourth best at Brown and eighth best in Ivy history. Reilly only averaged only 1.9 points and 1.7 rebounds a game, but she was a two-time captain and played in a program-record 111 games. Richardson never gained any traction in the Bears’ lineup, averaging only 3.3 minutes, 0.6 points and 0.4 rebounds in her first two years. In the coaching ranks, assistant coaches Tyler Patch and Jeffrey Kirpas left the team to pursue other interests. Patch, in addition to being a guest on Inside Ivy Hoops, was with Coach Sarah Behn for four years, while Kirpas was with the team for the last two campaigns. Director of Basketball Operations Sophie Albano-Alisberg exited as well.
The 2018-2019 Bears will again be led by a quartet of all-league caliber performers. Senior guard Shayna Mehta was second in the conference with 18.5 points a game and finished the season with 1,290 points, ninth all-time at Brown. She was selected second team All-Ivy the last two years and was the Rookie of the Year in 2015-2016. Junior guard Justine Gaziano was third in the league in scoring with 17.9 points per game and fourth in shooting at 48.6 percent. She was an honorable mention All-Ivy choice last year and a second team member in her rookie season. While her timetable is not official, Taylor Will is expected back to follow-up on her non-conference performance where she averaged 17.0 points (48.3 percent shooting) and 6.5 rebounds per game. Senior forward Erika Steeves led the team in rebounding (7.4 per game) and assists (2.7 per game), while placing fourth in scoring (11.1 per game with 43.1 percent shooting).
There will be eight newcomers next season with six first-year players and two assistant coaches. The Bears will bring in two front court players in Elle Baker and Ashley Ducharme. Baker, a 6′ 4″ forward/center from Saguaro High School in Scottsdale (AZ), finished her senior year averaging 20.3 points, 15.3 rebounds, and 3.6 blocks a game. Ducharme is a 6′ 1″ forward from Noble & Greenough School (MA), who was named a second team All-New England member in her junior year. On the wing, Alana Kelley will arrive from Desert Mountain High School in the Phoenix area. She entered her senior year ranked as the #8 player in Arizona and finished the season averaging 16.0 points and 7.0 rebounds a game.
Traiva Breedlove, Maddie Mullin and Nina Mehta are a trio of sub-5′ 10″ shooting guards who will look to help out the team’s backcourt production. Breedlove arrives from the Rochester area, averaging 24 points and 12 rebounds in a senior year where she was nominated for New York State Miss Basketball. Mullin amassed 2,142 career points for Beaver County Day School in Chestnut Hill (MA) and was selected to the USA Today’s All-State first team. Mehta, the younger sister of Shayna, averaged 20.6 points a game her junior year, went over the 1,000 point mark in her senior year, and earned two straight Bay County League (BCL) Central Division MVP awards from the San Francisco Examiner.
While the new players are certainly important for Coach Behn and her Bears, the addition of assistant coaches Eddie Benton and Kanika Cummings may be the necessary pieces to get the team to focus more of its energies on shooting defense (Ivy’s 6th best FG and 3 point defense) and rebounding (6th best Defensive and 7th best Offensive percentage) as it aims to return to the Ivy Tournament. Benton, a former point guard at Vermont and the Catamounts’ all-time leading scorer (2,474 points), will arrive as Coach Behn’s top assistant after spending the last six season as an assistant at Cincinnati, Duquesne and St. Francis (PA). Cummings, who enters as the team’s third assistant, is a former player at Siena College (’10-’14) and has spent the last two years as the lead assistant at Connecticut College.