Cornell women’s basketball began its season earlier this month with an impressive 53-32 victory over Colgate (1-4) on Nov. 10. Having not played since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, the players were eager to be back on the court and their energy helped them dominate the game from the start.
Following its first game, the Red hit the road for a three-game road stretch. Although the Red suffered two consecutive losses against Wake Forest University (5-0) and East Tennessee State (1-4), Cornell bounced back in its third game against Binghamton (3-2) and secured a 10-point victory. But in its return to Ithaca on Nov. 20, the team was dominated by Fairleigh Dickinson University (1-3) and lost to the Knights, 63-32.
Developing a strong identity is key to team comradery and success. But with eight players having never played a collegiate basketball game with the Red before, including four freshman, three sophomores and junior transfer Olivia Snyder, Cornell women’s basketball (2-3) has its work cut out.
Snyder, who transferred from Georgetown University after her freshman year, is getting her first taste of collegiate basketball after a hand injury ended her only season with Hoyas. Snyder waited a full year to see the floor with the Red as the pandemic wiped away her sophomore campaign.
Despite these early challenges, the energetic junior has not missed a beat, starting all five games and stepping up in big ways for the Red. Snyder leads the team in field goal attempts, and is second in minutes, points (50), rebounds (36) and assists (11).
“I was so excited to finally have a real season and settle into a routine here at Cornell,” Snyder said. “Even though we are a new group, I have full confidence in my teammates and our ability to win as a team.”
The Red is led by Head Coach Dayna Smith, a towering figure in Ivy League women’s basketball. Smith has been focused on using the first few non-conference games to develop a team culture.
“We weren’t able to play last year, so we have almost a brand new team,” Smith said. “Our juniors and seniors returning will be playing much different roles than they did two years ago, making jumps from maybe a bench player to a starter, our leading scorer, our leading rebounder or our leading defender.”
Smith explained that establishing a team identity is not a quick and easy process. Rather, she said the non-conference games are essential in working toward this goal, in finding players who work well together on the court and ultimately in preparing for Ivy play, which will begin on Jan. 2 against Dartmouth (0-3).
Smith, whose tenure at Cornell began in 2002, led a massively successful 2007-08 campaign, an effort that stands as the team’s best season in program history. That year, the Red earned its first-ever Ivy League championship and NCAA tournament appearance.
Smith’s teams have broken a number of school records since she came to Cornell nearly two decades ago, including wins in a season (20), conference wins (11), points in a season (1,889), 3-pointers in a season (200) and assists in a season (436). Smith has achieved the most success in competition of any coach in the history of the program and she is the second-longest tenured coach in the Ivy League.
The Red still has eight games before Ivy League play begins. Cornell will face off against another non-conference opponent in the University of Albany (1-1) at Newman Arena on Wednesday. Tipoff is set for 1 p.m.