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February 6, 2017

Cornell Women’s Basketball, or the Los Angeles Lakers of the NCAA

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This story previously appeared in our 2016-17 winter sports supplement. To view the supplement, click here.

When describing the Cornell women’s basketball team, a very imperfect analogy can be drawn between the Red and the Los Angeles Lakers.

After all, both teams have achieved success this season with rosters comprising abnormally high numbers of young players. Despite the various differences in other facets of these two teams, it would be fair to see why this similarity leads freshman forward Maddy Reed to draw the comparison between the two.

“I think we’re a lot like the Lakers in terms of our young roster and potential,” Reed said. “Our upperclassmen provide star power and scoring power like D’Angelo Russell and Lou Williams, whereas the freshmen and underclassmen are still figuring out our roles on the team.”

However, while the overwhelming amount of young talent on the Lakers is primarily the result of an effort to rebuild the team, the Red’s large number of freshman recruits occurs under slightly different circumstances.

Cornell ended the previous 2015-16 season with a 14-14 record, with the current 2016-17 season projected to play host to the Red’s highest finish since 2008. This optimism was certainly not unfounded either, with four of the Red’s five starters set to return for the following season and much of the bench intact.

Naturally, one might question the decision to shake up this proven foundation of success with the recruitment of an unprecedented eight person freshman class. However, a closer look at these rookies erases any doubt regarding the ability of these freshmen to find their fit into the team.

Courtesy of Cornell Athletics

Courtesy of Cornell Athletics

“I think our class really brings a certain energy that is very contagious both on and off the court,” said freshman guard Danielle Jorgensen. “We always have fun during games and practices. I think it translates really well onto the court and helps us play better. Coach has also done a great job integrating us into the system this year, so we are able to continue the success next year.”

Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of this year’s rookie class is the fact that a considerable number of them contribute significant minutes to the team. Reed, along with guards Marie Hatch and Samantha Widmann, each average at least 12 minutes per game, and are just a part of over half the freshmen class who average at least five minutes a game.

The large number of minutes that these rookies are playing are not unwarranted either, as they have seamlessly adapted to the collegiate style of play.

“The freshmen class have adapted to the speed of the game and the style of play as collegiate players,” Widmann said. “We know what is expected of us and we add a new youthfulness and energy to practice and games.”

While there is no “adaptability” statistic to measure flexibility, other statistics certainly demonstrate an immaculate transition to the collegiate level of play. The Red has consistently exhibited a comfortable level of ball-handling by averaging a +2.0 turnover margin, and their hustle by outperforming their opponents in rebounds and steals by margins of +1.3 and +0.8, respectively.

“With the majority of the team being underclassmen who needed to learn how to play college basketball and with no experience under our belts, [I thought] it meant that a lot would need to click in order for us to close the gap between a large group of freshman and the rest of the team,” Reed said. “[However], we [have] work[ed] to adjust to the speed and physicality of the college game.”

While the Red still hope to improve in several areas — Cornell currently has struggled season-long with their free-throw percentage, among other aspects of the game — it will certainly be encouraging to see such a promising, albeit large, group of rookies.

The team is currently amidst one of the best seasons since the Ivy championship 2008 season, now with an 12-7 record. With the current success, it will undoubtedly be interesting to see how these rookies can contribute to the Red in both the immediate future and years to come.