February 11, 2010

Women’s Basketball Looks to End Struggles Against Ivy League Foes

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The women’s basketball team will be celebrating National Girls and Women in Sports Day this weekend when it returns home to host the best and worst of the Ivy League at Newman Arena. Cornell will tip off the weekend against Penn tonight at 7 p.m. and will be back at it again tomorrow night against Princeton. Both Cornell (5-14, 0-6) and Penn (1-18, 0-5) will be in search of their first Ivy League wins, while Princeton (17-2, 5-0) will try to pad its conference lead and remain undefeated in Ivy League play.

National Girls and Women in Sports Day is an annual event hosted by Cornell celebrating women’s athletics. Registration for the event begins tomorrow at 5:30 p.m. with a clinic directed towards local youth athletes. Members of Cornell’s women’s athletic teams will be in attendance to teach future female athletes about the numerous opportunities that are available to them.

“[National Girls and Women in Sports Day] is always a fun and enjoyable weekend because the Ithaca community is so supportive,” said senior captain Virginia McMunigal. “It’s … exciting to kick-off our home games with the women in sports weekend.”

The clinic will run until 7 p.m., at which point free admission will be given to anyone (male or female) in attendance at the women’s basketball game against Princeton as a part of the NCAA Pack the House initiative. For the third straight season, the NCAA is sponsoring the Pack the House Challenge in order to encourage more attendance at women’s basketball games. Total attendance will be calculated at participating schools and awards will be given to those schools that generate the most support.

“It’s a challenge to the community and the student body to come out and support women’s athletics and support women’s basketball,” said Cornell head coach Dayna Smith.

“We had quite the rough road trip there,” Smith said, referring to a five-game road stretch in which the Red went winless, losing by an average of 14 points per game. “We’re excited to be home.”

Even more welcoming to the Red is whom it will face in its first matchup of the weekend. Under first-year head coach Mike McLaughlin, Penn has struggled for much of this season and is coming to Ithaca on a nine-game losing streak. The Quakers are averaging just 44.8 points per game, nearly 14 points below Cornell’s season average, and are led in scoring by senior guard Sarah Bucar with an average of just 9.0 points per game.

Despite the Quakers’ struggles this season, Smith acknowledges that the Red cannot take its opponent lightly this evening.

“Penn is in the same boat as us, they are looking for a win,” Smith said. “It’s going to be a game that we have to earn, not an easy game by any means.”

Cornell is on an 11-game losing streak itself, and will rely on its trio of senior captains to help put an end to the skid. Allie Fedorowicz comes into the weekend leading the Red in scoring with 12.7 points per game. McMunigal, who recently returned to the lineup after missing three games with an injury, is second on the team in scoring with 9.4 points per game. Cornell’s all-time assists leader Lauren Benson provides the most balanced line of all, however, averaging 8.0 points, 5.2 assists and 4.0 rebounds per game.

In addition to its three soon-to-be graduates, Cornell has received great production from freshman Clare Fitzpatrick and sophomore Allie Munson. Fitzpatrick is third on the team in scoring with 8.6 points per game and Munson leads the team in rebounds with 5.1 per contest.

The Red will need significant contributions from all of its players if it wants to upset the Princeton Tigers tomorrow night.

Led by freshman forward Niveen Rasheed and junior guard Addie Micir –– averaging 14.9 and 13.7 points per game, respectively –– Princeton enters the weekend with four players scoring in double-figures and on a 12-game winning streak. The team’s success hasn’t gone unnoticed on the national stage, either; the Tigers received five votes in the most recent AP Top 25 poll.

“Princeton is clicking on all cylinders right now,” Smith said. “They are extremely balanced, [they have] terrific guard play, and they love to play up tempo. We have our work cut out for us.”

The Red has shown the ability to compete with some of the Ivy League’s best teams, but poor execution and mistakes down the stretch have kept Cornell from getting that elusive first conference win. If Cornell wants to beat the Tigers tomorrow, the mistakes must be kept to a minimum.

“We lacked a little bit of toughness against Yale, and against Brown with a lead we lacked focused and execution,” Smith said. “We’ve done competitive drills all week. We’re really trying to challenge the team to step up and fight for a win.”

Original Author: Daniel Froats