Anything is better than last year for the women’s basketball team. For the Elis, a winning season is a distant memory as they prepare to compete in the 2006-’07 season.
The Bulldogs, who won only three games last year — two in Ivy League contests — of 27, hope to erase the memories of a dreadful last-place finish as they kick off the 2006-’07 season. The team returns four starters and nine total players, losing only one senior and gaining five freshmen.
The Elis have a stacked preseason schedule, including face-offs against DePaul, Sacred Heart and Marist, who all made NCAA Tournament appearances. The Bulldogs will travel to Chicago on Nov. 17 for the DePaul Invitational and to Colorado Springs for the Air Force Classic on Dec. 1.
“I think, no matter what, playing better teams will make you better,” guard Emily St. Jean ’09 said. “If we can handle these top 25 teams, we’ll be ready to play Ivy teams.”
After the intense two-month long preseason, the Elis will take on Brown on Jan. 13 for the first Ancient Eight tip-off of the new year and the new season. Last year, Yale was a fixture at the bottom of the conference standings, concluding the season tied for seventh place with Columbia.
Brown, Princeton and Dartmouth held a three-way tie for first, all with 12-2 records — the exact opposite of the Bulldogs’ 2-12 showing. Dartmouth earned a spot in the NCAA playoffs and will continue to be the team to beat in the Ivies this year. This trifecta of first-place squads were a perfect 6-0 against Yale last year, and Harvard and Brown should also provide challenges for the Elis over the course of the season.
“The traditional powers have been Dartmouth, Princeton and Brown,” Yale head coach Chris Gobrecht said. “Harvard is usually in the mix somewhere. They are going to be the teams that we have to chase down.”
It may be a less difficult chase for the Elis this year because they play a defensive game, and the former conference front-runners all have offense potency. The Bulldogs had the fourth-highest scoring defense, averaging 64.5 points per game, next to the three leaders in the 2005-’06 season, proving that, even though the Eli have problems scoring, they keep their opponents’ score low, too.
The Bulldogs will need to rely on their defense as they have in the past because their scoring abilities do not stack up against formidable league opponents. Captain and forward Chinenye Okafor ’07 was last year’s team leader, racking up 157 points in conference play, but this was still not enough to earn her a position amongst the Ancient Eight’s top-ten scorers.
“Coach Gobrecht puts a lot of pride in her defense,” St. Jean said. “We make a lot of effort to play an up-tempo game, and we try to create offense off rebounds.”
Returning to the Eli backcourt are guards Stephanie Marciano ’08 and Jamie Van Horne ’09, and Okafor and forward Alexandra Chen ’08 should provide some talent in the frontcourt. Van Horne led the team with 43 three-pointers overall last season, followed by Marciano with 17. The small but scrappy Marciano also led the team with 71 assists, with Okafor monopolizing first place in most offensive categories.
Forward Sara McCollum ’08, who led the team with 180 rebounds and center Erica Davis ’07, who had a .469 field goal percentage, are both post players and should be valuable on the Elis’ front line.
In addition to the returning players, the five freshmen will add depth and provide balance to the team, Gobrecht said. The Bulldogs have a positive team dynamic that includes the freshmen, but Okafor said the younger players will need some time to adjust to a new system and a new coach as the season progresses.
After a poor showing in the 2005-’06 season, the players and Gobrecht are optimistic about Yale’s improvements this year. They said the players worked over the summer to come in to training fit and that the team is looking to win some more games this year.
“Our biggest rival will be ourselves,” Okafor said. “The way we’ve lost is because we beat ourselves in each game. Our record has not shown what kind of team we can be.”