The 2016–17 women’s basketball season has definitely been a roller-coaster ride; after graduating a very talented group of seniors last year, I had some doubts about what this year’s team might accomplish, but I also had very high expectations given the immense talent that we were bringing in with our five freshmen and our team’s undeniable chemistry on and off the court. I came into the year apprehensive yet excited to embrace all the challenges that come with being voted the sole captain of a Yale team. My career had been full of ups and downs, with varying minutes per game, but I was prepared to work hard to make more of a difference on the court and as our team leader.
I knew from the first practice the potential that our team had to shake up the Ivy League this year and make it to the first-ever conference tournament. But while we approached practice with immense intensity, it wasn’t translating on the court, and we went on to lose seven out of our first nine contests in the league.
In every single one of those losses, I came away feeling that we were truly the better the team, and that we were beating ourselves. As a senior, it’s indescribably hard to have that feeling, knowing that you and your team aren’t playing to your potential and realizing the implications those games have on your postseason chances. I was frustrated, and our biggest challenge as a senior class was figuring out how to look past the disappointment and remain positive while learning from our past failures.
The turning point in the season came after our second loss to Princeton. It was alumni weekend, and we had our Bulldog family in the stands cheering us on. In the locker room before the Penn game, former players stepped up and told us what we needed to hear: “Stop thinking so much. Forget the scout. Go out, play confidently and have fun doing it.”
Some of us got together right before the game and talked about playing with a sort of “screw it” mindset. If the refs made a bad call, our shots weren’t falling or if Penn made a run, we just said, “screw it.” We wanted to play loose and to remember that playing basketball is supposed to be fun. Especially considering how our first nine games had gone, we really had nothing to lose out there.
That night, we beat a previously undefeated Penn team that went on to win the conference title. I’m told that that game is probably one of our biggest program wins in history, but that’s not really what felt so good about the outcome. Our team was finally playing to our potential, and I had a blast on the court that night, playing more minutes than I ever had before and making a difference.
In reviewing the game film, there were pivotal moments where we could see all of us laughing and smiling together — it’s pretty ridiculous, but shows how fearlessly we played. We took that momentum and that mentality and used it as fuel during the next game against our rival, Harvard, and beat them for the first time in five years. Being a part of those games and finally leading our team to the success will forever be the highlight of my career.
Those wins, plus a senior night win over Dartmouth, put us on the map for a tournament berth, but we had to win our final games. Going into Cornell a week later, we just didn’t show up as a team. In perhaps our most important game of the season, we lost the mindset that had propelled us through some statement wins, and beat ourselves yet again.
Because of the loss, I knew that Columbia was going to be our last opponent and we had to focus on ending our careers on a positive note. We played what might have been our best defensive game that night and pulled out a solid win. While our season is over, we ended with a 15–13 record, the first winning record in our four years here.
It’s extremely hard to walk away now, knowing we were actually playing to our potential and finally feeling like I was making a solid difference as a leader on the court.
There’s something to be said about the resiliency of coach Guth and our entire staff throughout this roller-coaster season. I’ve been fortunate to play under Guth for two years, and I can honestly say that there isn’t anyone more dedicated to this program and players. It’s hard putting into words the immense impact that she has on every individual she coaches, but this season wouldn’t have ended on such a high note without her constant belief in our team’s potential. While I’m left with an incomplete feeling not being able to play in the first Ivy League tournament, I’m truly comforted knowing the direction the program is headed with this staff at the helm.
I still can’t quite wrap my head around the fact that I’m done playing college basketball. It feels like it was just yesterday that I was a freshman riding the bench, and now I’m the retired, washed-up senior captain. I’ve learned a lot this year as a leader — how to persevere through adversity and put the team before myself — and I’ve even improved my terrible public speaking skills. Lena Munzer ’17, Meg McIntyre ’17 and I have been through so much together, and while the end is bittersweet, I can’t wait to see what this team does in the future.
Elizabeth Haley is a senior in Pierson College and the captain of the Yale women’s basketball team. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .