Last year, the women’s basketball team (14-11, 7-5 Ivy) patrolled the bottom of the league, garnering only three conference wins to 11 bitter loses. The Red was a struggling team; plagued with injuries and unable to climb out of the abyss it had fallen into.
Amazingly, the women have taken all those tough defeats from last year and turned them into the driving force behind swishes, conversions, and determination that has turned their squad into a league leader this year.
The Red headed away from the comforts of home this weekend to face two tough opponents in Brown and Yale. On Friday, Cornell knew it would battle a sleuth of Bears seeking revenge for a 66-56 beating two weekends ago.
As expected, Brown (10-15, 5-7) came out shooting in the first half and nailed 12-for-24 (.500) from the field for a 36-29 advantage going into the break. The Red managed to sink only 30-percent of its shots, going an uncomfortable 1-for-10 from beyond the arc. Brown, on the other hand, sank 5-of-8 of its three-pointers.
Coming out of intermission, the Red fought back to take a 41-39 lead with 13:51 to go, but could not pull in front again until the clock had consumed more than ten minutes, at which time junior guard Do Stevens was fouled on a drive to the basket. She made both her free throws for a 61-60 lead.
After Brown was whistled for traveling, freshman forward Tanya Karcic sank an off-balance jumper to give the Red a 63-60 lead with 18.5 seconds left.
Following a miss from the home team, sophomore forward Lynell Davis made two free throws with one second left to finish the Bears 65-60.
“They gave us a tough game,” head coach Marnie Dacko said. “They are tough at home. Going into half time, we knew we were still in the game. The bottom line is that we are a team that knows we can win on the road, and earlier in the season that was a question mark.”
Cornell came out firing in the second to make 10-of-24 (41.7-percent) of its shots from the field, while silencing the Bears and limiting them to a horrible 6-for-29 (20.7-percent) effort in field goals. The Red also out rebounded Brown 42-37.
Stevens was the game’s high scorer with 17 points and a 13-for-15 mark from the charity stripe. Davis pulled down a game-high nine rebounds.
A dangerous opponent against the Red, 6-4 junior center Rachael MacDonald who scored 21 points against it in the last match-up, was limited to seven points and seven rebounds thanks to early fouls.
“We knew when we went in, we had to stop her. We got her in foul trouble in the first half, she had her third foul early in the second half, so she was really a non-factor,” Dacko said about the team’s strategy to shut down MacDonald.
The next night would prove yet another test for Cornell, as Yale (8-17, 3-9) was prepared to do anything for a win. Coming off a 76-63 victory against Columbia on Friday, the Bulldogs almost had enough momentum to carry them through to an upset, but the dark cloud that has followed the Elis for the entire season would not disperse on Saturday night.
“Yale concerned me because they are a very strong team inside and outside. It was senior night, they had a huge crowd, it was going to come down to who wanted it more and Yale was desperate for a win, so they put all their effort forward,” Dacko recalled.
The Red went into half time tied 32-all, battling back from a 23-16 deficit midway through the first 20 minutes that was sparked by a six-point effort from senior forward Sandy Martisauskas.
The excitement of the first half was trumped during the final minutes of the game when, with 1:23 remaining, freshman guard Karen Force sank a three-pointer to give the Red a 65-63 lead. That advantage was quickly dismissed by Yale sophomore guard Maria Smear who drained her team-record seventh three-pointer of the game to give the Bulldogs a 66-65 lead. With time running out, Force put up a shot from well beyond the arc that air balled, but Martisauskas grabbed it and put it in to give the Red a 67-66 lead.
The forecast was not bright for the Bulldogs from that point. Smear, who ended the night with a game-high 26 points, was unavailable to take Yale’s final shot thanks to Siamese twin-like guarding from Force. When senior forward Alyson Miller put the ball up for one last time, it hit the rim, bounced around, and fell out as if to laugh at the misfortunes the team has endured. Stevens promptly grabbed the loose ball and held on as the buzzer sounded the Red’s victory.
Cornell shot a solid 42.8-percent from the field (25-for-59), only to be out done by a 25-for-52 (48.1-percent) performance from the Bulldogs in the same category.
The Red also out rebounded Yale 33-32 and had six fewer turnovers than the opponents with 15.
Junior guard Breean Walas had a team-high 18 points, including a perfect 8-for-8 in free throws. Force added 17 with a 7-for-10 mark from the field,
Stevens had 11 points, and Martisauskas contributed 10 points thanks to an impressive 5-for-6 field goal average. Karcic had a game-high 10 rebounds.
“We were thrilled with the victories. It was our last road trip of the season, and our goal was to come away with two wins. We all came out with intensity, and we put our minds to winning,” Force joyfully mentioned.
Currently, Cornell sits just below Harvard (10-14, 7-4) in the standings at the third position. If the Red can sweep next weekend’s games at home against Dartmouth and the Crimson, it will end the season as the Ivy runner-up behind Pennsylvania (19-5, 11-0), who has already clinched the Ivy championship.
“We have to control what we have control of, and I think right now Dartmouth is the one we are looking for,” Dacko growled. “We owe them. We had an opportunity to beat them at our place, and we folded. A year ago, they just killed us and basically laughed at us because we couldn’t put the ball in the basket. This is how rivalries are developed, and we need to come out and do the things we need to do.”
Walas had a different outlook on the upcoming matches.
“We are taking it one game at a time. We really want to win our last games this season, and I don’t think we are looking at it in terms of getting second place. We just want to play with a good feeling,” she ended.
Considering the fact that Cornell was eighth place last year, its second or third place finish this year undoubtedly makes the Red a contender for the league title next year.
“Winning is great, and is a lot of fun, and the team definitely feels like it has set a foundation, established itself, and put Cornell on the map as a respected team,” Dacko affirmed.
The win against Yale set a new school record for victories in a season and guarantees that the team will have its first winning year since the 1972-73 operation.
Dacko ended by encouraging fans and the Big Red band to come to the home games next Friday and Saturday.
“We had the band for two games, and it made a huge difference for the atmosphere of the game. We would love to have them come down and support us to finish up the season,” she said.
Cornell will face Dartmouth on Friday and Harvard the next night. Tip-off will be at 7 p.m. on both nights.
Archived article by Katherine Granish