Princeton women ranked No. 24 in AP preseason poll, poised to be class of Ivy League again

Carla Berube’s Princeton Tigers extended an impressive run of greatness in the 2021-22 season which began over a decade ago under Courtney Banghart.
The Tigers spent most of last season nationally ranked en route to an overall record of 25-5, ending with a near-upset of Indiana in the NCAA Tournament round of 32. The Tigers defeated Kentucky, the SEC Tournament champion, in the first round.
Now the Tigers are ranked again, placing 24th in the Associated Press’ Top 25 released Monday. Princeton was also projected to finish atop the Ivy League in the conference preseason poll released Monday.

How the Tigers got here

Berube now begins her fourth year at the Tigers’ helm, although the program lost her second season to COVID-19. In her first year, Ivy Player of the Year Bella Alarie led the TIgers to a record of 26-1, the only blemish an overtime loss at Iowa in December. The Ivy League pulled the plug on further competition just prior to the Ivy League Tournament. Eighteen empty months followed before the 2021-22 edition got back on the floor.
With Abby Meyers running the show in an Ivy Player of the Year campaign, the Tigers resumed their unprecedented dominance of the Ivy League, claiming the Ivy League Tournament title after winning all 16 of its conference matchups. Their only close call came in the first round of the Ivy tourney at Harvard. In what turned out to be the Ivy finale for Harvard’s legendary coach Kathy Delaney-Smith after 40 years at the helm, the Crimson came up short in a 72-67 thriller. No other Ivy opponent could get within double digits against Princeton. Columbia, the Ivy runner-up, lost three times to the Tigers by a combined deficit of 56 points.
Where the Tigers are headed now
For the second straight season, the Tigers lose the reigning Ivy Player of the Year. With a year of eligibility remaining, Abby Meyers transferred to Maryland. Princeton hardly missed a beat without Alarie and does not expect any letdown this year. The pollsters agree. Like the AP, ESPN ranks the Tigers in the nation’s top 25.
Along with stingy defense, Carla Berube is known to schedule as tough a nonconference slate as any team in the country. This season is no exception.
The November and December matchups include five teams invited to the Big Dance last season, as well as WNIT runner-up Seton Hall. Two road games highlight the early schedule. On November 27, the Tigers travel to Austin for a return matchup with the Texas Longhorns, who defeated the Tigers at Jadwin in December. Eleven days after the Texas tilt, the Tigers will be in Storrs for a faceoff with the Connecticut Huskies, who reached the NCAA Tournament title game in March.
Against the Longhorns a season ago, the Tigers crept within four points in the third quarter before the size, strength and speed of the visitors proved to be too much. The trip to Storrs will be a homecoming of sorts for Berube, who was a mainstay for the Huskies in their historic unbeaten national championship run in 1995.
Texas and Connecticut project as top-10 teams this year. Clearly, Berube expects to toughen her team by playing multiple opponents with legitimate postseason aspirations. She will have her team ready for the Ivy League competition, which gets underway on December 31 at Harvard.

Returning loads of talent
The Tigers are replete with returning veterans, including four starters from last year. Maggie Connolly, a starter for much of her career, also returns. Connolly was in the starting five early in the year until Berube deemed the dazzling Kaitlyn Chen ready. Chen emerged as a budding star, fulfilling the expectations she created as one of the most highly recruited guards in the nation during her high school career in California.
Ellie Mitchell, a rebounding machine, will once again hold down the five-spot. All-around talents Julia Cunningham and Grace Stone round out the returning top five. It’s possible that four of these players will merit All-Ivy consideration.
The Tiger bench is deep and experienced. Chet Nweke, also a highly recruited player coming out of high school, became a reliable contributor off the bench last season. The sky’s the limit for her going forward. Paige Morton and Parker Hill bring size and strength when needed.
An intriguing story centers on the 6’5″ Kira Emsbo, who came to Princeton expected to succeed Bella Alarie. Devastating knee injuries have kept her off the floor for her entire career. She returns healthy this season after a lengthy rehab regimen that most people would not have the courage or persistence to endure. Her identical twin sister has been a star for Yale for years but sadly was ruled out for the 2022-23 season with an undisclosed injury Tuesday.
The Tigers could contend without any freshman additions, but the real storyline this season is the entering class, considered one of the best in the history of the Ivy League.
A class expected to be in a class of its own 
Madison St. Rose, a 5’10” guard from St. John Vianney High School in New Jersey, led her team to a 97-6 record over her career, scoring 1,747 points in the process. Her 4+ GPA is as impressive as her talent on the court. St. Rose was considered the best high school player in New Jersey and one of the best in the nation.
Tabitha Amanze, a 6’4″ forward, is also a New Jersey high school product who played at Blair Academy in Blairstown. Tabbie is among the top 50 players in the nation. The native of Nigeria can do it all on the court, score in different ways, rebound and defend.
As if that wasn’t enough, Berube has also brought in Taylor Charles from Burlington Central in Illinois. At 6’2″, Charles can play a multitude of positions. In high school she registered over 1,000 points and 800 rebounds, gaining numerous all-state mentions while leading her team to four regional titles. On the academic side she achieved membership in the National Honor Society.
Berube looks beyond statistics when she assesses the prospects of kids aspiring to play for the Tigers. More than anything, she looks for kids who can be coached and who make their teammates better. Do not be surprised if one or more of the newcomers turns out to be a major contributor this season.
While Ivies have struggled mightily against the Tigers in recent years, the overall level of talent in the Ancient Eight is clearly on the rise. Yale added Dalila Eshe, a former top assistant to Berube, as head coach, while Harvard hired another former Tiger, Carrie Moore, to succeed Delaney-Smith. Both coaches inherit teams capable of contending every night. A third former Tiger assistant, Megan Griffith, has changed the culture at Columbia in her six years at the helm of the Lions. Mike McLaughlin at Penn became accustomed to sharing the Ivy spotlight with Princeton for many years. His Quakers will feature Kayla Padilla, a strong candidate for Ivy Player of the Year honors. You just know that all of these teams will be targeting the Tigers for revenge.
Nevertheless, it is very hard to imagine a scenario in which the Tigers do not continue their remarkable run at the top of the Ivy League. Play begins on November 7 when the Tigers will host the Temple Owls at Jadwin in the first game of the only men’s and women’s doubleheader of the season.

1 thought on “Princeton women ranked No. 24 in AP preseason poll, poised to be class of Ivy League again”

  1. You (inadvertently, I presume) leave the impression that Abby Meyers left Princeton for Maryland merely for greener pastures. Her hand (and those of Carlie Littlefield, Taylor Baur and McKenna Haire before Abby) were forced by the Ivy League’s refusal to allow grad students to play varsity sports.

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