Projected to record its highest finish in the Ivy League since 2008, the Cornell women’s basketball team will tip-off its season opener against non-conference opponent New Hampshire this weekend.
Head coach Dayna Smith, beginning her 15th season with the Red, recruited the largest freshman class in recent history, in an attempt to channel young energy to a team that is built on strong transitions and running the ball.
The team is coming off 14-14 season, finishing fifth in the Ivy League. The team retained a strong contingency its squad, with four of last season’s starters returning this year.
Senior Nia Marshall, who led the Ivy League in scoring with 16.6 points per game, is expected to remain a vital component of the Red offense. In her three years with the Red, Marshall has shattered many records as the second player in Cornell women’s basketball history to record 1,200 points in a career and the 10th top scorer of all time.
Marshall has her sights on the record points tally for the Red, which stands at 1,651 points. Marshall is at 1,271, but as she has averaged 423 points per season, she is projected to become the school’s all time leading scorer.
Smith indicated that the team is working to address some of their issues from last season. She said she believes the team suffered from a lack of rotation during the league schedule, when the team plays games on both Friday and Saturday nights.
“If you are only playing a six or seven person rotation, [the players] are running a lot of minutes which causes injuries, Smith said. “We need a nine,10,11 player rotation. Upperclassmen [did] work over the summer to earn more playing time.”
In an effort to develop a more fluid rotation, Smith has brought in the largest freshman class in her 15 years as coach, with with eight freshman granted roster spots out of 19 total players, and led by five seniors.
“We really wanted to bring in this freshman class while we had our five seniors in place,” Smith said. “Bringing in a class to replace a class doesn’t work as the freshman would miss out on that one year to play with the graduating class. We need to hand down leadership, work ethic, and what we stand for.”
Ahead of this weekend’s matchup, New Hampshire leads the overall series 4-0 and the Red will be hoping to post its first win against its opponent with the benefit of playing at home. The series reacord can be deceptive, as all four games have been decided by three or fewer points. The teams last met in 2014, where New Hampshire emerged victorious in a hard fought 59-56 victory.
“They are a very good physical team, well coached, they run a lot of sets, very similar to us in terms of philosophy,” Smith said. “We have played a lot of younger players in the past [against New Hampshire]. Now we are a more mature team and can cope with the various plays they run.”
Smith puts the preseason results in perspective of the campaign as a whole.
“I think it’s a balance, you need to learn to win, how to take lessons from losses,” she said. We try to schedule a variety of different teams that will help us prepare for our Ivy League opponents.”
Last year, both Penn and Princeton made the NCAA tournament, a symbol of the growing strength of the women’s Ivy League Division. Smith said she believes that this growth is a testament to the respective recruiting programs, as well as the competitiveness of the division.
“Our conference is ranked higher than a lot of the conferences of the teams we play here in the northeast, Smith said. We are capable of recruiting national, all institutions attract top scholars; we are lucky to pick people who are great in the classroom and talented on the basketball court.”
The Ivy League season will begin against Columbia on Jan. 14, and will conclude with home games against Yale and Brown in the first week of March.
Senior Megan DeLuc said she is roaring to play in the first game after nearly a month of practice.
“The hardest part of the season is when you are practicing for a month straight before playing games,” she said.
DeLuc and her teammates have the potential to take part in the first ever Ivy League postseason tournament, where the top four teams in league play a knockout style tournament, with the winner granted a place in the NCAA tournament and second place given a slot in the WNIT.
“I’m looking forward to playing with my senior class, we have made it through the past three years together and we want to go as far as we can,” DeLuc said.