How Princeton women’s basketball clawed its way to the top of the Ivy League

The 2019-20 Princeton women’s basketball team’s campaign ended all too quickly due to COVID-19, but not before demonstrating the enduring strength of the program under a new coaching staff. (Princeton Athletics)

The 2019-20 Princeton women’s basketball team was by no means a “one-hit wonder.”

It was the product of a process begun more than a dozen years ago. Successful coaches do more than win games; they build a program, an organization that can produce highly competitive teams year after year. Successful programs are designed to withstand graduations, injuries, and the inevitable clash of egos and personalities in groups of a dozen or more highly competitive and talented individuals. To achieve success in college basketball over time is incredibly difficult. To achieve credibility on the national scene with a mid-major program and no athletic scholarships defies belief. Princeton has done that.

In 1970, the 225th year of Princeton’s existence, school administrators decided to adopt the revolutionary idea of coeducation, not coincidentally, I have always believed, in the year following my graduation. One year later, varsity basketball was introduced as a women’s intercollegiate sport. The Tigers enjoyed early success, winning the first four Ivy titles following the launching of a women’s postseason tournament in 1975. (The women played a postseason tournament until 1982. In 2017, the present tournament format was adopted. The top four men’s and women’s teams compete at the same site over the same weekend to determine the league’s NCAA representatives.)

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2017-18 Ivy women’s basketball preview, part 3

This is part 3 of our 2017-18 Ivy women’s basketball preview. Read part 1 here and part 2 here.

4. Brown Bears (‘16-’17 record: 17-13, 7-7 Ivy; tied for fourth; Ivy Tournament semifinalist; lost in second Round of WBI)

Coach Sarah Behn (fourth season; 19th season overall)

Captains: Megan Reilly (senior guard) and Erika Steeves (junior forward)

Key Returning Players:
Justine Gaziano (sophomore guard) – 22 starts, 16.5 ppg, 47.5 percent field-goal percentage, 80 percent free-throw percentage, 35 made three-pointers
Shayna Mehta (junior guard) – 30 starts, 15.7 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 39.2 percent three-point percentage, 62 made three-pointers, 58 steals

Key Losses:
Abby O’Keefe (Guard) – five starts, 17.7 mpg, 4.6 ppg, 19 made three-pointers

Key Additions:
McKenna Dale (guard) – Connecticut Gatorade POY; 1,792 points, 747 rebounds, 264 steals, 162 blocks in career
Dominique Leonidas (Guard) – first team all-state (Ga.); 1,000-plus career points

IHO Brown schedule breakdown here

Gaziano and Mehta were both in the top five in scoring and named members of the All-Ivy second team. In her rookie season, Gaziano was in the top 10 of five offensive categories, while Mehta, the 2015-16 Ivy League Rookie of the Year, was in the top 15 for eight offensive and defensive statistics.  Steeves, the league’s top total rebounder, was in the conference’s top 15 for six offensive and defensive categories. Will was in the top 10 for five statistics.

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Princeton women’s basketball targets a return trip to the Big Dance

After a historic 2015-16 season that saw the Princeton women’s basketball team become the first Ivy League team to secure at at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament, the team graduated four of its top rebounders, as well as 71 percent of its offense.  Despite those huge losses, the Tigers were still projected for second place in the preseason Ivy media poll.  With four new starters, including a first-year and a sophomore, as well as a schedule that had the squad facing 10 2017 postseason participants, the Orange and Black ended the year second in the conference’s regular season, runner-up in the Ivy Tournament and selected to the NIT Tournament.  With another challenging schedule on tap for 2017-18, Princeton aims to improve upon its various records (16-14 overall, 9-5 Ivy, 6-7 nonconference and 5-10 vs postseason teams) to secure a return ticket to March Madness.

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Princeton regular season recap – Ivy women’s tournament preview

Prior to the Ivy League Tournament, Ivy Hoops Online is recapping the seasons of each of the four women’s seeds. Next up is No. 2 seed Princeton. We previously covered No. 3 Harvard and No. 4 Brown.

Read morePrinceton regular season recap – Ivy women’s tournament preview