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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Bella Alarie looking ahead to bright future with Dallas Wings

New Dallas Wing Bella Alarie looked ahead to her future in the WNBA in an interview with Ivy Hoops Online. (WNBA)

Ivy Hoops Online caught up with all-time Princeton great and new Dallas Wing Bella Alarie to see how she’s been doing since she became a WNBA draftee last week.

She may be turning pro, but she’s still got her senior thesis to finish.

“I am getting there,” Alarie said. “But I admit the week of the draft was distracting. Now that I have a little breather I can finish it up. It’s due in a few days and I’m going to make it.”

Alarie played primarily in the post as a college player. She sees herself as a stretch four, and the Wings staff agrees.

“I played guard as a teenager and didn’t reach my full height until I got to Princeton,” Alarie said. “I was very comfortable handling the ball and running the floor. The Wings expect me to shoot threes and play at a fast pace. I am really looking forward to the whole thing.”

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Pre-WNBA Draft buzz for Princeton’s Bella Alarie

Three-time Ivy Player of the Year Bella Alarie has long demonstrated that she’s a WNBA-caliber talent, and league evaluators are taking stock of her potential for success there. (Princeton Athletics)

With the nation continuing its fight against the coronavirus pandemic and the sports world on hiatus, the WNBA will provide some actual live entertainment on Friday night as the league’s draft will be televised at 7 p.m. Eastern Time on ESPN. Ivy hoops fans will have an additional bit of interest waiting to hear Bella Alarie’s name.

Alarie, a three-time Ivy League Player of the Year, four-time first team All-Ivy, two-time AP Honorable Mention All-America and all-time Princeton leader in both points and blocks, looks to be the third Ancient Eight athlete picked in Draft history and the first chosen in the opening round since Harvard’s Allison Feaster went No. 5 overall to the Los Angeles Sparks in 1998.

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Bella Alarie: A once-in-a-lifetime Tiger

Bella Alarie averaged 16.1 points, 9.1 rebounds. 2.5 assists and 2.3 blocks per game over a four-year career at Princeton during which she named Ivy Player of the Year three times and led the Tigers to three straight Ivy League championships. (Ivy League Network)

This has been a week of tumultuous developments in the Ivy League, most of them sad and disappointing.

But there has been some good news from the league as well. Players of the Year have been announced: Paul Atkinson from Yale and AJ Brodeur from Penn on the men’s side, and the incomparable Bella Alarie from Princeton, for the third year in a row, on the women’s.

Alarie is the only Princeton player to have won the POY award three times and to be named a first-team All-Ivy player in all four years of her college career. She has been more than a once-in-a-generation player. She has achieved once-in-a-lifetime status.

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