The date is January 20, 2001. The atmosphere in Newman Arena is tense, as the women’s basketball team holds a slim two-point margin over Ivy League rivals Columbia with seven ticks left on the clock. Freshman Karen Force makes her way to the charity stripe, and calmly drains two free throws. Cool as ice. Game over.
In one defining moment, Force cemented her reputation as a clutch player, showing poise and composure well beyond her years.
“The pressure doesn’t bother me a lot,” she admits. “I’ve been in many situations like that before. If you want to reach a goal, you gotta do it step by step, and being able to make the big shots is one step in doing that.”
Force’s ability to cope with intense pressure, added to her outstanding ball-handling and defensive skills, has made her an invaluable asset to head coach Marnie Dacko’s basketball team. As a freshman, Force started 15 games at guard, averaging 8.7 points, and team highs of 3.3 assists and 1.78 steals. For her remarkable exploits, Force was named All-Rookie Ivy League and also earned All-Ivy Honorable mention. Yet, Force was as surprised as anyone that she was able to make such an immediate impact.
“I had no clue to tell you the truth,” she said. “I was surprised when I started in our first game.”
In that game, Force announced her arrival at the collegiate level, with a 13-point, 8-assist effort in a 76-60 win over Loyola. That set the benchmark for a brilliant rookie campaign, which saw her log 29.4 minutes per game, topped only by Breean Walas. Yet, Force maintains that her first year was one of adjustment as well as of achievement.
“It was definitely a learning year for me,” she said.
Force believes that Dacko was instrumental in her smooth transition into the college game.
“She talked to me a lot and let me know how I was doing,” she said.
With a year of experience under her belt, Force is determined that the team will make a run for the Ivy League title.
“Our goal is to win the Ivy League,” she stated. “It’s definitely attainable.”
There is no doubt that Force will have to play a key role if the Red can prove the cynics wrong.
“I need to improve my shooting,” she admitted. “The confidence in myself in making shots is not always strong. I also need to work on free throws.”
Defense is one area she won’t need to address. She recorded 48 steals last season, making herself a nuisance to opponents.
It should come as little surprise that Force has become such an integral part of Cornell basketball in such a short time. Growing up in basketball-crazy Indiana, hoops has always been a part of her life. “Almost everyone in Indiana starts out playing basketball as their first sport,” she admitted. “But as I got older, my love for the game just grew.”
Currently, Force is enrolled in the College of Human Ecology and is majoring in nutritional sciences.
“Nutrition is interesting to me,” she said. “But I can’t imagine athletics not being a part of my life.”
Likewise, it would be difficult to imagine Karen Force not being a part of Cornell basketball.
Archived article by Soo Kim