Columbia women’s basketball recruits aim to move the program forward in ’18-’19

In Coach Megan Griffith’s first year at her alma mater, the Lions went 13-14 and its 10-3 non-conference record was an all-time best. Columbia faced a more challenging non-conference schedule in 2017-2018, but hoped to use it to build upon the 3-11 league record in 2016-2017. As the season began, the Light Blue & White had major losses that deprived them of a significant amount of their experience, front court depth, and three point shooting. While the coach was left with one of the Ivy League’s all-time offensive talents, the inexperience of the rest of the roster made for a disappointing 8-21 (2-12 Ivy) season. A spot in the Ivy Tournament may be too much to expect in 2018-2019, but the coach will bring in a large class of newcomers to help the young returnees move the program in the right direction.

The Lions lose Camille Zimmerman, Paige Tippet, and Jillian Borreson to graduation. They will also be without the play of seniors Josie Little and Sarah Elston, who, according to Columbia Athletics, have both medically retired.  Zimmerman averaged 19.5 points and 10.2 rebounds per game, finishing the season with her second straight selection to the All-Ivy first team.  She finished her career with 1,973 points, fourth in Ivy history, as well as Columbia’s all-time leader in points, rebounds (940), field goals made (728), field goals attempted (1,707), free throw percentage (82.6), games played (113) and games started (112).  Zimmerman joined the WNBA’s Minnesota Lynx as a free agent, but was released at the end of the preseason.  She recently signed a professional contract to play for Kouvottaret in Finland.

Tippet started 20 games this past year, averaging 4.3 points per contest.  Borreson appeared in 15 games with limited minutes and production.  Little started at forward through the first half of ’16-’17, averaging 5.4 points and 8.0 rebounds per game, but she missed the second half of that season with an injury.  Last season, she only managed to play in five early season games before another year ended prematurely.  Elston missed all of her first and third years to injury, while only appearing in two games in her sophomore season.

Even with Zimmerman, Columbia was at, or near, the bottom of the conference in most offensive categories.  The Lions scored 62.2 points a game (7th in Ivy), shooting 39.3 percent overall (6th) and 30.9 percent from three (6th).  Their 76.3 percent free throw rate was tops in the league, but they were seventh in attempts (379).  Columbia often abandoned ball movement to throw up threes or leave Zimmerman alone to handle double and triple teams, resulting in a league low 11.7 assists a game.

Defensively, the Lions gave up 70.9 points per game (7th), allowing teams to shoot 43.0 percent (7th) overall.  They struggled on the boards with league lows in margin (minus-six), offensive rate (25.9 percent), and defensive rate (65.8 percent).  They also created little defensive pressure, resulting in being last in blocks (2.3), steals (4.7) and forced turnovers (13.2). The bright spot was the three point defense, in which the Light Blue allowed its opponents to make 6.3 treys a game (third), shooting 31.8 percent (fifth).

The young Lions will be led by two sophomores and a junior. who spent a sizable portion of last year in the starting lineup.  Riley Casey, a 5′ 8″ sophomore guard from Tennessee, started 26 games last year, averaging 32.1 minutes, 10.2 points and 2.2 assists per game.  She can shoot from the outside (team high 47 made threes at 29 percent rate), but is better at creating shots from inside the arc (51 made twos at 47.9 percent).  Sophomore Madison Pack, a 6′ 3″ forward from Florida who started 23 games, averaged 23.4 minutes, 5.8 points and 3.8 rebounds a contest.  For a big, she had more of a preference for playing on the perimeter, evidenced by the fact that she took 73 percent of her 166 shots from three (making 40 at a 32.8 percent rate).  Junior Janiya Clemmons, a 5′ 9″ guard from Maryland, started 21 games, averaging 24.9 minutes, 7.2 points and four rebounds per game.

Coach Griffith has brought in seven new athletes in her second recruiting class.  Hannah Pratt will help out down low this season, while Kallin Spiller will sit out her sophomore year due to transfer rules.  Pratt, a 6′ 1″ forward from South Florida who averaged 12 points and 7.7 rebounds a game, earned first team All-County honors in her senior season.  As the coach told Columbia Athletics, “Hannah provides rebounding on both ends, is a legitimate midrange threat and has a strong pulse for her teammates.”  As an added bonus, Pratt can always help out Al Bagnoli’s team in the fall, since she can play linebacker or wide receiver.  Spiller is a 6′ 3″ forward from Seattle University, who was named the 2017-2018 West Coast Conference Rookie of the Year.  In her first season, she started 27 of 32 games, averaging 9.2 points (51 percent shooting; second in WCC) and 6.5 rebounds per game.  During her four years at Lakeside High School in Seattle, she had more than 1,000 points and rebounds.

Sienna Durr is a 6′ 0″ guard/forward from Iowa, who was a three time All-State selection and the Class 4A Player in the Year in 2017-2018.  Last season, she averaged 21.7 points and 7.6 rebounds per contest.  For her career. she was Grinnell High School’s all-time leader in points (1,561), rebounds (733), and blocks (246).  The coach mentioned to her Athletic Department, “She can guard multiple positions and will be a defensive catalyst.  She has proven to be a versatile scoring threat at all three levels and is a great rebounder.”  Lillian Kennedy is a 5′ 11″ guard/forward from the Atlanta suburbs, who can play inside and outside.  She averaged 15.2 points and 10.9 rebounds a game in her senior season, which was capped off with a second team All-State selection.  In her four years at Mountain View High School, she finished with over 1,000 points and 990 rebounds.

Sydney Brown is a 6′ 0″ wing from Blair Academy in North Jersey.  According to Coach Griffith, “She allows us to be more versatile on both sides of the floor and will be able to play inside-out to create mismatch problems.”  In her six seasons playing at Blair, she was a two-time All-Prep State and Mid-Atlantic Prep League first team choice.  Last season, she led her team to the MAPL championship, averaging 16.1 points and 11.5 boards a game.  Madison Hardy is a 5′ 9″ shooting guard from the suburbs of D.C., who was named to the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference’s third team in a season where she averaged 12.4 points a game and hit 56 three pointers.  Mikayla Markham is a 5′ 7″ point guard from St. Rose High School at the Jersey Shore.  This past year, she averaged 10 points and five assists a contest, as she won a state title and was named third-team All-State.