Tears flowed on the faces of Yale’s upperclassmen on senior night as their depleted and undermanned roster fell to Princeton on Saturday. It was an effort they could be proud of, but will be a bittersweet memory for seniors Ashley Easley ’09, Kaitlyn Lillemoe ’09 and captain Jamie Van Horne ’09.
Coming off a high-energy 61-51 win against Penn on Friday night, the injury-plagued Bulldogs simply didn’t have enough left in the tank against the Tigers on Saturday as they dropped the emotional game by a score of 61-53.
FIGHTING THE QUAKERS
The Elis (11-15, 4-8) started off the weekend with a well-fought game against Penn (7-18, 4-7 Ivy). Despite only having three frontcourt players available, the Bulldogs did a solid job of holding the Ivy League’s leading scorer, Carrie Biemer, to a quiet 18 points. The combination of forwards Mady Gobrecht ’11, Michelle Cashen ’12 and Vicotira Perez ’11 were enough to out-rebound the Quakers 38-35 and dominate the paint all night. Gobrecht finished the game with 14 points and eight rebounds, Cashen added 10 boards of her own, and Perez defended the paint with two blocks.
“The boards really hurt us last time we played this team and we felt like it was important for us to neutralize that part of their game,” head coach Chris Gobrecht said. “We really focused on this turned out to be a great team effort — everybody played good defense, everybody rebounded, and everybody played smart. This game was all about our defense and rebounding.”
The game was also completely different from these two teams’ last encounter, where both squads struggled to find the range early en route to scoring a combined 37 points in the first half. On Friday night, the two teams hit that milestone just nine minutes in when Van Horne hit a three-pointer to close the deficit to just three at 20-17. The Bulldogs tied it up at 27 at halftime and went on to outscore Penn in the second half as eight Elis netted a field goal in the win.
But against Princeton on Saturday, the Bulldogs hit a roadblock.
THE INJURY BUG
“Well, it was just little old us against all 55 of them tonight,” Chris Gobrecht joked about facing Princeton (11-14, 6-5).
From her perspective, that was not far from the truth.
The injury bug has just refused to leave Yale alone this season as more than a third of the team was forced to watch from the sidelines on Saturday night. Forwards Lindsey Williams ’11 and Verena Lehner ’12 were out at the beginning of the season and guard Allie Canulli ’10 suffered a leg injury within minutes of checking into her first game earlier in the season. Guard Brianna Segerson ’12 also went down for a stretch in the middle of the season with an ankle sprain. Then the Bulldogs suffered perhaps their biggest setback of the season when starting forward Haywood Wright ’10 went down with an ACL tear against Princeton on Feb. 13. Adding insult to injury, Easley broke her hand in practice on Thursday, just two days before senior night festivities were scheduled to celebrate the culmination of four years of hard work and determination that she had put into the program.
To make matters worse, Princeton has one of the deepest rosters in the Ivy League and dressed seven 6-footers. Against an already undersized Yale team that was also missing three 6-footers, the Tigers took full advantage of the boards and pounded the Bulldogs down low. Devona Allgood, the 6-foot-3 freshman center for the Tigers, led all players with 17 points and 13 rebounds, many of which were on the offensive end as Yale struggled to keep her height and athleticism in check.
As if the size advantage weren’t enough, the fact that the Bulldogs only dressed nine players for the contest due to injury also took a toll. Against the lowly Brown Bears the night before, no Princeton player played for more than 24 minutes and the Tigers were just brimming with energy from the get-go. Meanwhile, the Elis had to battle the Quakers with a short bench on Friday night and although the players did not admit it, fatigue definitely played a role in Saturday’s loss.
“We gave it our best shot, but we were just outmanned tonight,” Chris Gobrecht said. “We took shots that we would normally make if we were slightly less tired and I was happy with our effort.”
AN EMOTIONAL LOSS
Playing their final game in John J. Lee Amphitheater, the senior class will have to live with this bittersweet memory as several Bulldogs teared up before and after the game.
“We knew that this last game was going to come and it needed to come — our bodies were getting old and breaking into pieces,” Easley joked. “But it’s a mixed bag of emotions. It’s hard to know that we wouldn’t play another game in John J. Lee Amphitheater again.”
The women also had support from the previous captains of the squad, Stephanie Marciano ’08 and Chinenye Okafor ’07, who made a surprise visit for senior night and cheered on the players from the crowd.
“It’s just special to play for a team where girls come back and support you on senior night,” Lillemoe said. “Our friends came back from all over the country to see us and you know you’re loved. It’s just a special bond that we have and we will always have with our teammates.”
For captain Van Horne, reflecting on her career was a little overwhelming.
“It’s definitely emotional for sure, but it still hasn’t really hit me yet,” she said. “It’s hard not to cry, but there’s really nothing to cry about — my experiences here have been great and I’m a better person because of it.”
The class of 2009 will leave a distinct legacy for this team and even in defeat, those qualities still shined through.
“Before the game, I just told them to play the way that Kaitlyn, Ashley and Jamie would play,” Chris Gobrecht said. “I told them to play with Kaitlyn’s joy, with Ashley’s don’t-give-me-any-crap toughness and with Jamie’s determination, and we definitely played with those qualities tonight.”
The Bulldogs will have their final games next week on the road against Ivy leaders Dartmouth and Harvard.