November 16, 2001

Guarding the Court

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Coming off the best season in its history, the women’s basketball team returns to the court with a balanced squad of returners and new comers. Last year, Cornell finished with a 15-12 record, an 8-6 record in the Ivy League, and a third place finish overall. These three accomplishments were firsts in the program’s 30 years, and were even more remarkable considering the team’s 11-15 overall mark and 3-11 league record in the 1999-2000 season.

Last year, the Red began its Ivy campaign with its sights set on a championship. After starting the conference season 2-4, however, the chances of a first place finish were severely jeopardized, especially considering that eventual champ Penn was off to a 6-0 start to its perfect 14-0 league mark.

Cornell refused to succumb to the strong feeling that it was doomed to patrol the basement of the league for yet another year. Instead, the Red rebounded in an overpowering way, finishing out the season with a 6-2 mark. The difference in the two losses only amounted to a miniscule five points, including a nail-biting 59-54 loss to the Quakers and a heart-breaking 51-50 loss to Dartmouth.

“It probably provided a starting point for us to go from this year seeing how well we improved in the Ivy League,” senior guard Breean Walas commented when asked if last year’s finish would give the team confidence going into this season.

“When you are coming back, you have nothing to lose and everything to gain. When you are hanging on and maintaining a lead, things can get tight,” head coach Marnie Dacko explained. “And that is the difference between last year and this year; we are still going to maintain our game.”

The Red brings a talented backcourt to the floor this year. The holy trinity composed of senior tri-captains Do Stevens, Walas and sophomore Karen Force combine as a deadly group that will significantly factor in this season’s success. If anyone can stand up to that pressure, it is these three women.

“Bree, Karen and Do are the gel that hold this team together. They are tremendous leaders, they are small but mighty, and they carry a big punch,” Dacko praised.

Stevens, who led the team last year averaging 11.5 ppg and was named to the second team All-Ivy, is aggressive on defense and takes control of the court on the offensive end. Selected to the All-Rookie team her first year, she has maintained a consistent level of play throughout her career in Ithaca, despite playing on a twisted ankle for most of her sophomore year and experiencing lingering effects of that injury last year. In a home game against Yale last season, Stevens showed off her remarkable shooting ability by racking up a career-high 30 points and had six steals, also a career-high.

Walas, the Ivy Rookie of the Year, has a soft shot that is relied upon in close games. Averaging 9.1 ppg and a solid 79.4 percent from the free throw line, this guard finished among the top three on the team in assists (62), steals (39), 3-pointers made (26) and 3-point percentage (.351). She also ended the year making 40.9 percent of her field goals and her strong all-around effort earned her a spot as an All-Ivy honorable mention. She will continue to play a huge role late in games.

Force is a speedy competitor who stepped up last season to lead the team in assists and steals, with 90 and 48, respectively. She averaged 8.7 ppg and made 20 3-pointers, which contributed to her selection to the All-Ivy Rookie team last year. The team will rely on her instincts and quick hands against tough opponents this season as she continues to build on a stellar career.

Juniors Ify Ossai and Jenny Todd will look to increase their presence on the court this season. Ossai is relied on for her speed off the bench as she appeared in 25 of the Red’s 27 games last year. Todd’s action was limited to three games last season as she combated a knee injury, but she has strengthened her game throughout the off-season and should see more time on the court.

Sophomore Lauren Kilduff appeared in 20 games last season, coming off the bench to add her athletic punch to the contests, but with a year under her belt, she will continue to contribute late in games.

Three freshmen join the squad this year. Lindsey Dean, Anne Schweiger, and Casey Manning will all compete for time on the court and will look to the upperclassmen for guidance.

If history repeats itself, as it has been known to do many times before, the Red should expect to better last year’s outstanding performance. Cornell has the confidence and discipline to bounce back from a rough outing, and if it can bottle uprisings from its rivals in the final minutes of play, the Red should give the rest of the Ivy League a run for its money. “Overall, we just want to have a good year,” Walas concluded, acknowledging that the team is shooting for the Champ-ionship.

Dacko echoed a similar sentiment.

“Our goals are to take one game at a time, learn from that, and build on that,” she ended. “This team is very serious.”

“We have high expectations. I think anything less than first would be a disappointment,” Stevens reiterated.

Archived article by Katherine Granish