Ivy League women’s basketball Media Day roundup

One day after releasing the conference’s preseason poll, the Ivy League moved one step closer to normal by hosting the 2021-22 Media Day for women’s basketball Tuesday.  For the first time, the league used a Zoom format to create a stronger connection between the coaches, players and the media.

In Monday’s poll, three-time defending champion Princeton was again picked as the top team with 122 total points and 12 first-place votes.  Penn, the 2019 co-champion, was selected No. 2 with three first-place votes and 108 points. The next three teams were close, with only six points separating Columbia, Yale and Harvard.

The Lions, which earned their first Ivy League Tournament berth in 2020 before the tourney was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, moved up to third with 87 points. The Bulldogs, a third-place team in 2020, dropped to fourth at 82 points.  The Crimson, which finished fifth in 2020, received one first-place vote but missed the upper division by one point.

Cornell, the 2020 seventh-place squad, moved up to sixth for 2022 with 41 points.  Dartmouth and Brown, two teams with new coaching staffs, ended up with the last two spots, with the Big Green’s 29 points two ahead of the Bears.

Tuesday’s Media Day revealed the four tiers apparent in the preseason poll. But there could be a slight reordering near the top.

Princeton continues to have the quiet confidence reflected by coach Carla Berube and feels the team is able to compete with any program in the country despite the graduation of Bella Alarie to the WNBA and Carlie Littlefield to North Carolina and former Princeton coach Courtney Banghart.  Possessing one of the nation’s best defenses and five veterans from the 2020 team that averaged 15 or more minutes (senior Abbey Meyers: 6.3 points per game, junior Julia Cunningham: 8.2 points per game, Grace Stone: 5.8 points per game, 39.7% from three-point range, and Maggie Connolly: 5.2 points per game, 43.8% from three, and sophomore Ellie Mitchell: 5.3 points and 6.3 rebounds per contest), the Orange & Black will prepare to defend their crown by taking on another challenging nonconference schedule that includes a visit from Texas, a 2021 Elite Eight team.

Penn has built its recent success on the strength of strong back-to-the basket forwards Eleah Parker, Michelle Nwokedi and Sydney Stipanovich.  With the absence of those three stars, coach Mike McLaughlin is aware of the inexperience of his roster and likens this year’s team to those in his early years in West Philadelphia.  The difference between then and now is the strong championship culture that has developed and the presence of star junior shooting guard Kayla Padilla (17.4 points per game).  The 2020 first-team All-Ivy and Rookie of the Year will lead a more uptempo game that features senior guards Nikola Kovacikova (7.9 points per game at Georgetown), Mia Lakstigala (3.5 points per contest) and Meg Hair (0.7 points per outing), along with senior forward Kennedy Suttle (16 starts, 4.1 points and 4.7 rebounds per game) and true sophomore Jordan Obi. 

Columbia, more than Penn, appears to be the team closest in the Tigers’ rearview mirror. Coach Megan Griffith, a former Princeton assistant, and sophomore guard Abbey Hsu, a 2020 All-Ivy second-teamer, showed the outward confidence reminiscent of the 2018 Tigers team that ended Penn’s back-to-back title runs. The Lions have unfinished business after being denied the chance to play at the 2020 Ivy tournament and seemed slighted by the number three slot in the preseason poll.  Griffith returns eight players from the 2020 team that averaged double-digit minutes, including Hsu (14.3 points per game), 2020 second-team All-Ivy junior guard/forward Sienna Durr (12.8 points and 6.1 rebounds per game), and junior guard/forward Kaitlyn Davis (8.4 points and 5.5 rebounds per contest).  Added to this veteran roster is junior guard Jaida Patrick from Duke, and to the coaching staff, former standout Dartmouth point guard Cy Lippold.

Yale took a big hit from 2020, graduating four of its top six players, leaving the team without 60% of its scoring, 48% of its rebounding, 77% of its three-pointers and 70% of its steals.  Fortunately, seventh-year coach Allison Guth can anchor her team and its pack-line defense around 2020 second-team All-Ivy junior forward Camilla Emsbo (15 points and 8.2 rebounds per game), who took last year off to play with the Danish national team. Joining Emsbo in the team’s inside-out setup will be senior forward Alex Cade (12.2 minutes, 5.2 points and 2.5 rebounds per game), shooting guard Klara Astrom (11.7 minutes and 2.8 points per game) and sophomore Jenna Clark at the point.  With more than half of the roster not having played a college game, Guth will rely heavily on her leaders as the team gets ready for conference play. 

With a return to play for the first time in almost two years and a second chance at earning a spot in Ivy Madness at Lavietes Pavilion, coach Kathy Delaney-Smith enters the season with a renewed level of excitement.  While the coach is well aware of the sloppy play in the early practices, she feels her veterans have returned to campus stronger than ever and her overall roster is one of the best, if not the best, in her celebrated 40 years at Harvard. The coach has a solid core of seven or eight players, led by 2020 honorable mention sophomore guard Lola Mullaney (30.6 minutes,14.7 points per game), senior guard Tess Sussman (26.9 minutes, 7.7 points, 5.2 rebounds per game) and senior forward Rachel Levy (20.6 minutes, 7.5 points, 6.1 rebounds per game).  Joining the veterans will be junior guard McKenzie Forbes, who transferred from Cal, and first year point guard Harmoni Turner, a top-50 ESPN recruit who plays tenacious defense and can score at all three levels.

Cornell, like Yale, lost four of its starters from the 2019-20 teams, including honorable mention players Samantha Widmann and Laura Bagwell-Katalinich.  Without 73% of its scoring, 67% of its rebounds, and 58% of its made threes, 19-year veteran coach Dayna Smith will have to put a lot of responsibility in the hands of junior guard Shannon Mulroy (25.2 minutes, 8.3 points per contest) and senior forward Theresa Grace Mbanefo (18.2 minutes, 5.5 points, 4.9 rebounds per game). Those two will be helped by senior wing Samantha Will and junior guard Olivia Snyder, a transfer from Georgetown, as they look to develop an inexperienced roster for the Ancient Eight season.

Dartmouth hired long-time Bowdoin coach Adrienne Shibles in May to get the program’s 18th Ivy title and its first since 2009.  The coach acknowledges this is a “first year” for players and coaches alike, with a missed season, eight new players on the roster and a staff without any Division I experience.  Leaning on her “little Ivy” experiences in the NESCAC conference, she’ll focus her energies on the defensive end.  A believer in the concept that defense wins championships, especially in one of the nation’s top defensive conferences, she will look to get her team to create chaos for their opponents while increasing their rebounds and limiting turnovers.  The coach will be led by senior guard Katie Douglas (27.9 minutes and 7.5 points per game), junior point guard Karina Mitchell and junior forward Emma Koch, who will return to the court for the first time since her last year of high school. 

Brown, like the Big Green, will have a new coach on the sidelines when the season begins in a few weeks. Monique LeBlanc, the previous head coach at Merrimack, is actually in her second year in Providence, but her first coaching games. LeBlanc will look to rebuild a team that has only six conference wins over its last three seasons. Knowing the team’s recent struggle on defense, she is putting additional emphasis on this side of the ball and developing a disruptive scheme that takes advantage of analytics.  With 10 newcomers on the team’s 17-person roster, the Bears’ transition will be helped by senior forward Ashley Ducharme (21 starts, 4.8 points and 5.6 rebounds per game), junior guard Maddie Mullin (19 starts, 6.4 points per game) and assistant coach Tyler Patch, who was an assistant at Brown under former coach Sarah Behn and an assistant for LeBlanc at Merrimack.