WOMEN’S BASKETBALL: New season gets underway

After four straight seasons in the top half of the conference, the women’s basketball team will enter this season hoping to prove preseason prognosticators wrong.

Tabbed for a fourth place finish in the Ancient Eight by the preseason Ivy League media poll, the Bulldogs will look to improve on last year’s third place finish and challenge for the Ivy League title.

“We think we’re better than that,” head coach Chris Gobrecht said. “We have a chip on our shoulder, seeing [Penn], whom we swept a year ago, on top of us [in the poll]. We’ve been in the top half of the conference for the past four years, and we aspire to win the Ivy League. But we don’t lose track of the process and how important the experience is. We want the team to play as well as it is capable of playing.”

The confidence extends beyond the coaching squad, however. Forward Meredith Boardman ’16 said that the team is aiming above its predicted finish for the Ivy title.

She added that the Bulldogs will look to games as opportunities to implement what they have worked on in practice.

“As a team, we really feel that this is our year, and we can come together and do something for the program,” Boardman said. “We want to get better each day, work hard every day in the gym and bring that to the court.”

This season, Yale returns 11 members from last year’s team and adds four talented freshmen to the mix. The Elis lost two players to graduation in guards Megan Vasquez ’13, who made an All-Ivy team each of her four years, and Allie Messimer ’13, last season’s captain.

The squad will look to its four seniors and two All-Ivy honorees, Janna Graf ’14 and guard Sarah Halejian ’15, to fill the void.

“One of the things I am happiest about is that the seniors, by the time they become seniors, are important, and they play significant roles,” Gobrecht said. “Although we lost an All-Ivy player in Vasquez and a leader in Allie, we have four real committed seniors, willing to do all they can for this program, and they are stepping in very ably.”

Halejian, the leading offensive player from last year’s team, is coming off an outstanding performance last season. She was named to the All-Ivy League First Team as a sophomore and was the Ivy League Rookie of the Year her freshman season. The Bulldogs’ top scorer, Halejian averaged 13.8 points per game in 30.2 minutes and started every game last year.

The incoming freshman class brings in four talented players who look to contribute to the team’s success this season. Gobrecht expects guard Meghan McIntyre ’17, a top 30 player from California and a top 200 player in the nation, to play an important role in faciliating the offense. She will help replace some of the production lost by the departure of Vasquez and Messimer with her notable shooting abilities. Forward Katie Werner ’17, also 6-foot-1, also brings an extensive high school resume to the Eli squad: She was named Arizona Preps Player of the Year and an All-Arizona selection in her senior season.

Forward Elizabeth Haley ’17, from Dayton, Ohio, will bring both height and athleticism to the table, while point guard Lena Munzer ’17 brings her three high school league titles to New Haven.

“They’re going to be important,” Gobrecht said. “They are talented freshman class, a serious, competitive freshman class. A combination of their intensity and talent will put them in a position to help our team.”

But the Elis’ talent extends beyond the freshman and senior classes.

Two juniors, center Arrice Bryant ’15 and guard Hayden Latham ’15, will return from injuries that kept them off the court all of last season.

“We missed those players a lot last year,” Gobrecht said. “Hayden Latham will be in the starting lineup on Saturday, and we didn’t have her all last year … It is a huge boost to have her back. Arrice Bryant was one of our big kids, a really vocal leader on the floor, and she is a good presence to have back in the gym.”

According to Gobrecht, one of the keys to the Elis’ success will be their depth. She said that in the beginning of the season, the team will rely more heavily on the more experienced players before progressively incorporating the underclassmen. It will be important for the Elis to get production from a large segment of their roster, as the coach noted that the squad will look to play a fast, aggressive game with lots of substitutions.

The Bulldogs will play a challenging schedule this season, with 12 games against opponents that competed in postseason play last year. Two games will come against squads that were ranked in the top 25 of the Associated Press Division One poll last year, Kansas and Miami.

“We have a philosophy: You can’t beat them if you don’t play ‘em,” Gobrecht said. “We enjoy challenging ourselves against teams of that caliber. We’ve gotten drilled sometimes, we have had good games, and we’ve had some improbable wins. We do it because it’s fun. We like to play those teams and have a shot at them.”

In the near future, though, the preseason looms, with home stands coming next weekend and the first two weeks of December.

The young Bulldogs will gain experience as the season progresses, and Latham expressed excitement about the start of the season.

“We know the importance of pushing each other to keep getter better,” Latham said in a message to the News. “We’re looking forward to getting to play and compete with a great team that has a lot of depth and desire to win.”

The Elis will don their uniforms for the first time this season on Saturday on the road against Monmouth, which finished third in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference last season.

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