Ivy Madness reporter’s notebook: Days 1 & 2

Ivy Madness became Ivy Gladness for Princeton women’s basketball after its 72-67 Ivy League Tournament semifinal win over Harvard at Lavietes Pavilion. (photo by Erica Denhoff)

“As we battle in the WBCA (Women’s Basketball Coaches Association), they’re always talking about “create this environment.”  Any time I talk equity with anyone, they always say there’s more pressure on a man because the gyms are full, and the bands are playing.  The opposite is true.  It’s much easier to play in a (packed) venue like this.  It’s very, very hard for women all over the country and play in empty gyms without bands, fighting their schools for support to get the bands there and to get the cheerleaders there.  There’s been huge growth at Harvard, but there’s such a long way to go.  It’s really wonderful for the athletes to play in this kind of venue and it’s fun to watch as well.” – soon-to-be retiring Harvard women’s coach Kathy Delaney-Smith, talking about the boisterous atmosphere during her team’s 72-67 loss to No. 1 seed Princeton

Some random thoughts after two great days at the 2022 Ivy League Tournament:

  • Checked in a few minutes after 2 p.m. on the women’s media day.  A small group in the ones arrived at the festivities, but it was enough to overwhelm the person at the front desk, who failed to check my vaccine information.  In case anyone at Harvard is interested, I am up to date with my vaccines and proud to show my card!
  • Over the last few tournaments, the opening-day reporters generally consist of Jonathan Tannenwald of the Philadelphia Inquirer and David Tannenwald of Harvard Magazine and me (and I am being very generous to myself in this instance).  Thankfully, our cohort increased by two with the welcome addition of Jenn Hatfield at The Next and Ivy Hoop Online’s Erica Denhoff.  
  • This is my first visit to Lavietes Pavilion and it’s a great place to watch a basketball game.  It certainly doesn’t have the history of the Palestra or the old-fashioned charm of the John J. Lee Amphitheater, but it is a modern and intimate setting with great seats throughout, clean amenities and a welcome climate-controlled environment.
  • With those positives noted, there is not much room to fit the press conference area.  As a result, it is often difficult to hear the coaches and players when the PA announcer is talking or playing music.
  • One other thing about the press conference area.  There is a small, raised dais, where the coaches and players have to climb a few narrow steps that seem may have come from the Poseidon Adventure.  Some players have decided it’s easier to just jump off the platform, but the majority take the stairs.  Each time, I hold my breath (thankfully, I’m masked so no one can see me do this) that they make it down safely – especially when I saw Penn’s Jelani Williams, he of the three ACL surgeries, take the steps while wearing sneakers with open laces.
  • The coaches and players have all been great in their press conferences.  Thanks to the wonderful world of technology, the folks at the Columbia women’s basketball program have been holding weekly gatherings for most of the season and it’s been really helpful for broadcasters and reporters to get insights from coach Megan Griffith.  Since there are so many well-skilled communicators in the conference, hopefully the other 15 programs will follow suit.
  • Speaking of Griffith, her candor and confidence really came through on Thursday, when she guaranteed a victory in the semifinal against Yale.  When a certain reporter asked about preparations for Yale and possibly Princeton, the coach followed with “Rob, you keep saying possibly.  We will be here for two games.”  (After her team’s convincing 67-38 victory over Yale, I respectfully offer a Jerome Allen “tip-of-the hat” to the coach).
  • One more thing about the Lions coach, just between you, me and the internet, she is still not pleased that Abbey Hsu, who has 95 triples on the season, one shy of the 96 Harvard’s Katie Benzan made in 2017-18 and three away from Benzan’s record setting 99 in 2018-19, was only named to the second team. (Benzan was named first team in each of those seasons, in addition to her first year when she made 85 threepointers.)  
  • Harvard’s Kathy Delaney-Smith, as usual, didn’t disappoint.  In both press conferences, she showcased her wit, determination, passion for her players and her unending fight for gender equality in sports.
  • After a long day of travels and shootarounds, Yale’s Allison Guth was just the right person to end Day One.  Her positive and enthusiastic energy was infectious and helped get everyone through the last press conference of the day.  It’s hard not to root for someone who comes up with such great slogans as “beautiful bulldog basketball,” “tradition never graduates” and “scoring makes up for a multitude of sins.”
  • Princeton’s Carla Berube and Cornell’s Brian Earl speak with such modesty and humility, constantly redirecting praise to their players and staff.  It’s not surprise that both were recently chosen as Coach of the Year in their respective divisions.
  • After listening to Princeton’s Mitch Henderson and Penn’s Steve Donahue, you get a real sense of how physically and emotionally draining this pandemic season has been and how every person and team who have gotten to this point need to be applauded.
  • While Henderson talked about the support between the men’s and women’s teams at Princeton, he could have spared a few moments to tell Berube how challenging it is to be an undefeated regular season champ and have to try and beat a No. 4 seed on their own court.
  •  Congratulations to Yale’s James Jones and his Bulldogs, who had the shortest press conference of all eight teams.  With the many NCAA appearances his team has had over the last few years, the soon-to-be dean of Ivy coaches knows how to effectively and efficiently answer reporters’ questions.
  • The announced attendance for Friday’s games were 889 for Princeton-Harvard and 771 for Columbia-Yale.  I don’t know how those numbers compare to the 2018 and 2019 semifinals, since those were not reported, but the arena had a great energy for both games and the fans for all four teams represented quite well.
  • Day Two sightings (by me, at least): UConn stars Paige Bueckers and Azzi Fudd at the Columbia-Yale game (Fudd was a teammate of the Lions’ Carly Rivera at St. Johns College High School in D.C.);
    the Yale Daily News’ great reporter William McCormack (no matter one’s political party, I argue McCormack has been better chronicler of the Bulldogs over his time as an undergraduate than former Eli Brett Kavanaugh);
    George “Toothless Tiger” Clark in his official limited edition Ivy Hoops Online mask;
    IHO’s Richard Kent, asking “a really great question” to Allison Guth (as opposed to Jonathan Tannenwald’s “awesome” inquiry) and Palestra Pete (maybe if they checked his vaccine card we could find out if that’s really his given name.)
    Police officers coming into the upper part of the stands during the first half of the Princeton-Harvard game.  Perhaps all that talk about the Tigers’ defensive steals got them on edge.
    The Princeton men’s basketball team and members of the Harvard men’s basketball team, led by McKenzie Forbes’ brother Mason, as well as Ike Nweke, who was there to cheer on his classmates and his sister on the Princeton team.
  • Day One and Two Non-Sightings (by me, at least): Ivy League Executive Director Robin Harris, Harvard men’s coach Tommy Amaker, any of the Legends of Ivy Basketball and the Yale men’s basketball team (who were having dinner instead of watching their classmates take on Columbia in game two).
  • While it’s great to hear the winners talk about moving towards their dreams of a tournament title and an automatic bid to the NCAAs, the most meaningful moments arrive during the conversations with the teams that will not be moving forward.  Friday night gave us Kathy Delaney-Smith and McKenzie Forbes sharing the heartbreak of an upset that would have arguably ranked No. 2 in KDS’s illustrious 40-year career and Camilla Emsbo, Yale’s incredibly mature and poised pandemic-junior, who broke down when talking about how meaningful it was to have her twin sister, Princeton’s Kira Emsbo, who has battled injuries the last three years, as well as the rest of her family in the crowd during Friday’s game.  If the WNIT committee is watching or listening, the Ivy League has two great teams who still have gas left in the tank and are ready to lace them up next week.