It is undeniably the biggest game in Cornell women’s basketball history and arguably one of the biggest this year for Cornell athletics as a whole.
Currently, the Red is sitting a half game behind Harvard (17-5, 8-1 Ivy) in the standings. Tonight, the Crimson is coming to Ithaca and with a win Cornell would take sole position of first place as it has so far played one more game than Harvard.
However, following a home team victory tonight, if both squads win all their remaining games, Cornell and Harvard would be co-Ivy champions and would face each other in a one-game playoff at a neutral site to determine who would get a ticket to the NCAA tournament.
But that is getting ahead of the situation at hand.
“We are not going to look at Dartmouth until we play Harvard,” head coach Marnie Dacko said of the weekend’s games.
“We don’t forget about Dartmouth, but we have to look at Harvard and remember that it’s one game at a time,” junior forward Iffy Ossai echoed. “So Harvard, then hopefully after we win, we will look at Dartmouth and focus on them and only them, not what happened last night or what will happen next week.”
In response to those who may hint at the implications of this game on the outcome of the Red’s season, the team is unwavering in its one-game-at-a-time attitude.
“We can’t say this game is for the Ivy title because we still have three games after it,” Dacko insisted. “I am trying to get the kids to take in the moment and think about the process, not the result.”
“We are not stepping out of bounds and looking beyond Harvard at the end result, we are looking at Harvard,” she continued
“This week we have felt that we are going to come out harder than anyone has seen us before. We are so focused and so ready to play,” Ossai reflected on the team’s attitude during its practices.
The Red is coming off an action-packed weekend in which it posted dramatic wins over Yale and Brown.
Along with its overtime loss to Columbia, the Red has only one other blemish on its record, and that came at the hands of league rival Harvard.
Cornell went into the match with a three-game winning streak, including an 11-point win over Dartmouth the previous night, and only one loss in the eight prior games. Rarely on the lower end of a score at the half, the Red found itself trailing its opponent by five after the first 20 minutes of play.
Despite relatively equal numbers from the field and three-point area for the match, the Red’s demise can be traced to the 12 additional points that Harvard sank from the free throw line during course of the contest. The game ended with a 64-58 score, giving Cornell its second loss of the Ivy season.
That was in Boston.
Tonight, sans home-court advantage, the Crimson will face the wrath of a vicious Cornell squad.
“We are ready to go out there and just play the game. You can’t think of it as revenge, that’s not the way you play games. You just go out there and play your best,” senior tri-captain and guard Breean Walas responded when asked if the team was ready for revenge.
Dacko had a different perspective.
“This is another game, they are coming to our floor, they beat us on their floor, so it is payback time for us,” she chuckled.
The Red will find its toughest challenge from the Harvard lineup in sophomore forward Hana Peljto and freshman frontcourt mate Reka Cserny.
Peljto is leading the league in scoring, averaging 20.8 ppg and is third in rebounding with 9.0 rpg. She has been chosen as the Ivy Player of the Week for the past two weeks and on another occasion earlier in the season. Last weekend, this rebound magnet grabbed eight boards in a 59-55 win over Pennsylvania and a whopping 19 in a 78-70 victory over Princeton.
Cserny has garnered Ivy Rookie of the Week honors five times this season, and with good reason. Making 51.1% of her shots from the field and 88.6% of her shots from the free throw line is good for first place in the league in both categories. She is also fourth in the league, averaging 15.5 ppg and is seventh averaging 7.2 rpg. Last weekend against the Tigers, Cserny scored a game-high 26 points and tallied seven steals.
When asked if the team would have to be wary of these two women, Dacko commented, “Absolutely, they are coming in off two big games, so we have to play solid defense against them. But it is the whole team that we have to think about.”
“We have to play them heads up. They are a solid team coming in. They are good inside, they are good outside, and they are aggressive,” Dacko continued.
After the marquee event of the weekend, the Red will face Dartmouth (7-15, 3-6 Ivy) tomorrow night in yet another critical match.
The Big Green is coming off a weekend split against seventh-place Princeton (8-14, 2-7 Ivy) and third-place Penn (9-13, 5-4 Ivy). After a solid 76-57 win over the Tigers, sixth-place Dartmouth succumbed to the Quakers by a score of 64-60.
Junior forward Katharine Hanks sits at the helm of the Green’s charge. Against the Tigers, Hanks connected for 24 second-half points to lead the come-from-behind rally. Adding that to her first half total, the forward scored a career-high 34 points in the match with 14-for-20 shooting from the floor. She is also eighth on the school’s all time list with 599 rebounds.
These two matches mark not only a crossroads for the team as a whole, but also are the final home games for the three seniors, Do Stevens, Walas, and forward Melissa Koch, members of the most successful class in the record books
“I’m hoping to sweep the weekend because that would be a great way to finish my career. It is going to be sad, but not as sad if we do beat Harvard and sweep,” Koch said.
“We are just really focused on what we have to do. Go out there, play good defense, play as a team and just play as hard as we can,” Walas summarized.
Dacko ended by pointing out that “This is one time that [the fans should] bypass a hockey game to come see women’s basketball. Hockey already has home court ice advantage, so it is time to support our women.”
She also added that she “got [men’s hockey head coach Mike] Schafer’s ’86 permission to say that.”
“We hope to give them a good show and we’re glad [the fans] are coming out,” Koch said.
“This is an Ivy League championship that is on the line and this team has worked so hard and we want fans to come out and see that we can play and that we deserve the Ivy championship,” Ossai ended.
Both games will commence at 7 p.m. tonight and tomorrow and will be held in Newman Arena.
Archived article by Katherine Granish