November 9, 2007

Women’s Basketball Travels to Long Island

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On Wednesday the Ivy League released the 2007-08 women’s basketball preseason media poll. Not surprisingly, defending champion Harvard sits atop the rankings with all but one of the 16 first place votes. Princeton received the only other first place vote and ranks second, tied with Cornell. The second place selection is the highest preseason ranking the Red has ever received, after finishing third in the Ivy League last season with a school-record eight conference wins.
But before the Red gets a chance to challenge its aforementioned Ivy foes, it will turn its focus to a 13 game non-conference schedule, beginning with this Saturday’s season opener at Long Island. The Red has not faced Long Island since Cornell’s all-time leading scorer Karen Walker ’91 led the Red to three consecutive victories over the Blackbirds from 1987-88 to 1989-90.
“We have film from their earlier games of last season, but they’re a brand new team this year,” said junior forward Jeomi Maduka. “But we’ll prepared for whatever they throw at us.”
“We’re preparing the same way we’d prepare against any other team,” said senior tri-captain Moina Snyder. “One year to another, teams change. The only thing we don’t know is the gym.”
Unlike two decades ago, Long Island enters Saturday’s matchup against Cornell led by last season’s NEC Coach of the Year, Stephanie Gaitley, and NEC Player and Rookie of the Year, Valerie Nainima. The 5-5 sophomore guard led the Blackbirds in scoring with 17.8 points per game to finish second in the nation among freshmen.
“They’re a talented team,” said head coach Dayna Smith. “Their point guard, Valerie Nainima, is very quick and athletic. We’ll have our hands full with her, and she’s got a nice cast around her.”
While both the Red and Blackbirds set school records for conference victories last season, Long Island also set its school record for overall wins by finishing 22-9. The Blackbirds’ second place finish in the NEC was good enough to earn its first women’s National Invitation Tournament appearance in the 42-year history of the program.
While Cornell cannot boast of a conference player of the year, it does have a former Ivy League Rookie of the Year in Maduka. The Red will hope to counteract the Blackbirds’ attack with the inside presence of Maduka and Snyder, who both earned All-Ivy recognition following the 2006-07 campaign.
“We’ve been doing really well so far, and the energy level has been progressing,” Snyder said. “Everyday the team is getting better and better, which can be hard to do when you start out so well.”
“Especially this past week, we’ve been doing really well,” Maduka said. “The team has been coming together and gelling. We knew from the beginning we’d have a good team.”
Maduka will look to get off to another strong start in her third year with the Red, having leathe team in points, rebounds and steals in each of her first two seasons. Snyder immediately contributed after arriving on campus last season, leading the team in blocks with 36, while ranking second on the team in points, rebounds and steals, and being named All-Ivy honorable mention.
Returning starters junior Kayleen Fitzsimmons and sophomore Lauren Benson will look to complement the frontcourt from the guard positions, where the team’s three freshmen may also see some time in the first game of their collegiate careers. Having lost only one senior to graduation, however, the freshmen may take a back seat to the four returning starters from last year.
“We’re in a pretty different situation this year,” Smith said. “We’ve got more experienced players, so we’re not in a position where we need the freshmen to contribute right away.”
No matter who is on the court for the Red, Smith hopes to earn her second season-opening victory to begin her sixth season at the helm for Cornell.
“Anytime you’re playing a team for the first or second game of the year, it’s a little different,” Smith said. “The team has changed since last year and [scouting] doesn’t really matter this early on. You just need to go out and take care of your own business.”­