As the clock in Newman Gym hit 0:00, the Cornell women’s basketball team knew its fate. Despite going .500 in Ivy League play and attaining its highest win total since the 2007-2008 season, the Red would not be headed to the Palestra to play in the inaugural Ivy League Tournament.
The two teams facing off in Newman — Cornell (16-11, 7-7 Ivy) and Brown (16-11, 7-7 Ivy) — headed into Sunday tied for fourth place in the league, with an appearance to the Ivy League tournament on the line. However, the tournament was not in the stars for the Red, as it was Brown who came out with the 67-46 victory.
“It was a disappointing finish for us, and despite accomplishing a lot of what we wanted to this year, our biggest goal was reaching the Ivy League Tournament,” said head coach Dayna Smith. “Losing the tiebreaker to Brown in that fashion was very tough for our team, but ultimately, I am very proud of what we achieved this year.”
Led by five seniors, all of whom started, the expectations for the squad coming into the season were that this team was more than capable of winning the Ivy League crown and earning a bid to the NCAA Tournament.
“It was a special feeling to start with the four other seniors this year,” said senior guard Taylor DePalma. “We have been together since the beginning, and to see all of the hard work finally pay off this season was unbelievable.”
After winning four of its first five games, and ending non-conference play 9-4, the Red’s prospects of earning a spot in the Ivy League tournament seemed very realistic.
It looked promising that Cornell would ride that momentum into Ivy League play after sweeping Columbia to open league play. But the Red would go on to lose five of its next six games, quickly leaving the Ivy League Tournament in the rearview mirror.
“We were on the road for three straight weeks in the first round of Ivy League play, which was very difficult for us,” said senior guard Megan LeDuc. “But even though we lost a lot of those games, they were extremely close, which gave us confidence that we could compete with all of the teams in the Ivy League heading into the second round.”
The Red was able to rally after the losing stretch and won three of its next four games, including victories over Harvard and Princeton, setting up the winner-take-all game against Brown.
“Overall, this was the most enjoyable season I have had,” Nicholle Aston said. “I really enjoyed the quality wins we got as a team, and while it is disappointing that we didn’t make the tournament, I was still satisfied by how the year went.”
The entire year, senior forward Nia Marshall led the way, averaging 15.3 points per game and nearly seven rebounds per game. Additionally, she finishes her illustrious career as Cornell’s all-time leading scorer, and was recently named as a member of the first team all-Ivy League.
Next season, the Red will lose its entire starting lineup due to graduation, and are expecting to rely on current juniors Janée Dennis and Christine Ehland for leadership.
Additionally, Cornell is bringing in a four-player recruiting class, comprised of two guards and two forwards who Smith believes could make an impact right away. But she is also aware that the transition from high school to college basketball is difficult, so she is not going to put any pressure on them early.
“We expect our returners to fill the outgoing seniors’ shoes, and to create a new path for us heading forward,” Smith said. “But we still do expect those incoming freshmen to contribute to next year’s team.”