For the first time in three years, there will be a changing of the guard in the backcourt of the women’s basketball team. After leading the Red to the brink of Ivy League glory last season, the now graduated duo of Do Stevens ’02 and Breean Walas ’02 have made way for a younger crop of talent, of which junior guard Karen Force is its undisputed leader.
The departure of two of the most influential players in program history has left question marks on a backcourt that was arguably one of the league’s strongest last season. Stevens, an All-Ivy first team selection in 2002, led the Red in scoring with 15 ppg and was renowned for her steady if unspectacular play on the court. Walas, who won All-Ivy second team honors last year, will always be remembered for her virtuoso performance in the Red’s epic 77-75 overtime loss to Harvard on Feb. 22, 2002.
While the duo spent the better part of four years racking up impressive box score figures, it is the intangibles that Force will miss most about her former backcourt mates.
“They had good court awareness,” she recalled. “They were two guards with a lot of experience, a lot of background. They really had a sense of the game, knew what to do and when. With them gone, it’s a big void, but I think the people we have this year, and the freshman class that we brought are capable of filling that void.”
“With Do and Bree gone, of course we lost a lot of our scoring, but I know that everyone else on the team realizes that and recognizes that, and people at every position will pick up their play. I know I need to be more of an offensive threat, and I know that all four surrounding me, and those who come in for me will also recognize that and will come out in the attacking mode ready to score.”
As one of the most experienced players remaining on the roster, the onus will be on Force early on to help carry this team. The Indiana native has won Ivy League honorable mention honors in each of her two seasons, and will be looking to build on a successful sophomore campaign running the point. In 23 games, she averaged 11.5 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 4.7 apg, and recorded a team high of 60 steals. In addition, her ability to hit clutch shots made her one of coach Marnie Dacko’s first offensive options when the game was on the line. Given such poise under pressure, it is of little surprise that Force is looking forward to the responsibility being placed on her shoulders.
“I know that my role has increased this year, and I know what I need to do,” Force said. “It’s an exciting role, it’s full of opportunity and to be in this position is just a thrill. It’s challenging, but you know, I thrive off that.”
Other returning members of the backcourt include the versatile Lauren Kilduff, and former Lansing High School player Lindsey Dean. Kilduff, who is also a high-jumper on the track team, has brought energy and athleticism off the bench in each of her first two seasons. Last year, she tallied 4.0 ppg and was one of five Red players to appear in each every game.
Dean, a three-sport athlete in high school, saw little playing time during her first season, but showed a good shooting touch, connecting on 35 percent of her three-point attempts.
Two years ago, Force arrived at Cornell, not expecting to be a key contributor right from the offset. That year, she ended up leading the resurgent Red to a 15-12 mark, while earning a place on the Ivy League’s All-Rookie team. This season, there is an opportunity for one of the new faces to follow in Force’s footsteps. Sarah Brown and Hillary Seidel are two freshmen who will vie for playing time alongside the veteran Force.
“Sarah and Hillary are both great ballhandlers and great shooters,” observed Force. “They’re both quick, can provide a lot of defensive and offensive threat, and I think that as they progress in practice, and as we all progress in learning the new offense, we’ll become acquainted with everybody and learn to play, and they’ll bring a lot to the team.”
At times last season, Dacko alternated between Force and Walas in bringing the ball up the court. With both Brown and Seidel capable of running the point, new coach Dayna Smith may look to employ the same tactic, relieving Force of some of her ball-handling duties to get her more involved at the offensive end.
The talent may be there, but it remains to be seen which of the younger players will emerge to help ease the void left by the departing seniors. Whoever ends up earning the lion’s share of minutes alongside Force will do well to heed her advice:
“You have to be really open-minded, yet be yourself, be confident in what you can do and what you know you can do, and things will fall together.”
Archived article by Soo Kim