Returning from a fourth-place finish in a much disputed Ivy League in 2014, Yale’s women’s basketball team members and coaches are optimistic about this year’s team chemistry and their season outlook.
In the preceding season, the Bulldogs finished fourth in the Ancient Eight, keeping up with their five-year streak of finishing within the top four teams. With an equal number of wins and losses, 7–7, the Elis showed their skill but lacked the consistency to reap better results in conference play.
The Bulldogs were led by Janna Graf ’14, whose presence will be sorely missed on the team. Graf was a key player for high point production: With an average of 9.6 points per game, Graf only finished behind teammate Sarah Haleijan ’15.
Haleijan will be a significant asset to the Elis this year. With an impressive average of 15.5 points per game, Haleijan started in every game last season and was chosen by fellow Bulldogs as the captain for the 2014–15 season. In addition, Haleijan was selected for the All-Ivy League First Team in both the 2012–13 and 2013–14 seasons. She was also named Ivy League Rookie of the Year for the 2011–12 season, her first as a Yalie.
Nine other veterans will be alongside Haleijan this season, including two starters from last season — Meredith Boardman ’16 and Lena Munzer ’17. The team captain, however, is the only senior on the team this year — but this does not discourage head coach Christianne Gobrecht.
“We may only have one senior, but she’s a good one.” Gobrecht said. She also expressed her full confidence in the younger team members.
Haleijan is of a similar opinion, adding that there are solid upperclassmen in the junior class who are able to help her lead the team effectively.
Boardman, for instance, appeared in all 28 games of the season and started in 21 of them. She ranked 12th in the Ivy League with 5.5 rebounds per game, an all-team high.
Joining veteran Bulldogs this year are four freshmen from around the country — guards Clara Mokri ’18, Mary Ann Santucci ’18 and Tamara Simpson ’18, as well as forward Jen Berkowitz ’18.
Gobrecht expressed her confidence that this year’s freshman batch was a talented one, and that the team’s chemistry was strong from the get-go.
“I have never been a part of a team that I have enjoyed more than this one so far,” Santucci added. “Everybody really puts the team before themselves and genuinely cares about how other people on the team are doing.”
The freshman explained how all the team members were very welcoming to the incoming freshmen, both on and off the court, which helped foster a strong team community from the start of pre-season.
Throughout the pre-season, coaches had the Bulldogs focusing on getting in great shape. Gobrecht said that her intent was to lay down the defensive and offensive foundations that would be built on throughout the season, as well as develop the players both physically and mentally for the season’s start.
She has been developing training plans alongside new additions to this year’s coaching staff. Assistant coach Clare Fitzpatrick was joined by both Stacy McIntyre and Brandon Gade as part of the team’s staff. McIntyre has previously coached Division I women’s basketball for 10 years, seven of which were under Gobrecht at the University of South Carolina. Gade also has significant previous experience with women’s collegiate basketball. His last post was as an assistant coach and recruiting coordinator at Albertus Magnus, a Division III school.
“From everything that I am hearing from the players, they are very happy with our coaching staff this year,” Gobrecht said. “We have a great mix of enthusiasm with experience, and every coach on this staff is absolutely dedicated to the players on this team.”
The head coach is convinced that the team this year is “just better” than last season’s, and that her greatest challenge will simply be to figure out how to use the various strengths of different players this year — effectively meshing those strengths into a consistent game plan.
The competition, however, will be tough. Last year’s top contenders Princeton and Penn were once again placed at the top two spots in the pre-season’s coaches’ poll. Harvard ranked third — just one spot above Yale. Both Harvard and Penn show significant changes in their teams from last year, but Princeton’s team brings an impressive 13 returners, including four starters from last season.
Captain Haleijan is very aware of the fact that all the usual teams in the Ivy League should be back in full force again, but is confident that even though Yale was predicted to finish fourth in the league, that the team is competitive with Harvard, Princeton and Penn.
“We have all the pieces we need to have an extremely successful year,” Haleijan said.
Haleijan has extra motivation this year. As a senior, it’s her last chance to win an Ivy League championship, a personal goal of hers.
This might just be the year for Haleijan. Yale’s strong set of returning players and good number of talented new faces has proved to be a powerful mix.
“Rome and Ivy Champions aren’t built in a day; this team has the ingredients for developing the championship mind set necessary to ever be champions,” Gobrecht said. “That’s what we’re after.”
The first game of the season for the Bulldogs will be on Nov. 15 at home against St. John’s.