Finishing sixth in the Ivy League last year and projected to finish just one spot higher in 2017–18, the Yale women’s basketball team shattered all expectations in a historic season.
In arguably the program’s most successful campaign ever, the Bulldogs (19–13, 8–6 Ivy) obliterated the seasons wins records, set by the 1979–80 season that won 17 games. Last Thursday, after a tough postseason run, the Elis captured the Women’s Basketball Invitational Championship, becoming the first women’s team in conference history to win an out-of-conference postseason tournament.
“What made this team so special was the combination of experience and talent from our senior class, combined with talent and ambition of our youth,” head coach Allison Guth said. “There are genuine relationships from player to player and coach to player built on love and trust. When you have that type of culture you can accomplish special things.”
The Elis were picked to finish fifth in the Ivy League Women’s Basketball Preseason Media Poll. Still, Guth said at the beginning of the year that her team was optimistic about making an appearance at the Ivy League Tournament by breaking into the top four in the conference standings. The Elis showcased their tenacity throughout the season, and, although the results varied, the team managed to break into the top four in the Ivy League standings.
Guth, now in just her third year on the job, credited the program’s success to the dedication and work ethic that she and her coaching staff have tried to foster since her first season as head coach. This year, she said, the team’s preseason trip to Italy allowed the players to bond and build chemistry on and off the court. According to Guth, it also forced each player to improve her skill set individually.
Yale entered Ivy League play battle-tested, boasting overtime victories against Binghamton and Stony Brook and having suffered agonizing losses to talented programs such as Kansas and Indiana in nonconference play. Those experiences proved crucial down the stretch, when the team needed to execute in crunchtime as it battled for a spot in the Ivy League Tournament. Yale’s improbable come-from-behind victory over Columbia on Feb. 24, a game in which the Elis trailed by 15 in the third quarter, epitomized the team’s gumption under pressure. With the comeback win, the Bulldogs clinched a spot at the Palestra.
“I am most proud of the fact that we beat both Princeton and Harvard, and got that huge win on the road at TCU back in November,” captain and guard Mary Ann Santucci ’18 said. “It’s cool to leave this program having beaten every team in the league, which until this year with our Princeton win, Jen [Berkowitz ’18], Tamara [Simpson ’18] and I wouldn’t have been able to say we did.”
The senior’s first win against Princeton came in a momentous victory on Feb. 2, when the Bulldogs snapped a 17-game losing streak to the Tigers. In a well-rounded effort, the Elis defeated the eventual conference champions with a season-best display from behind the arc. The last victory over the Tigers came nearly a decade earlier, on Feb. 13, 2009.
In the first round of the Ivy League Tournament, the Bulldogs clashed again with the Tigers, but were unable to repeat their sensational performance from downtown. The Elis were thoroughly outplayed and suffered a blowout loss during their Ivy Madness debut.
In the 16-team Women’s Basketball invitational, though, the team got a chance at redemption. The Bulldogs’ determination was once again on full display. never more visible than during the semifinal match against South Alabama. Down 11 points with only two minutes remaining, the Elis pulled off a miraculous comeback to force overtime and eventually take down the Jaguars. In the title match, the Bulldogs triumphed over Central Arkansas in a drawn-out defensive duel.
“I’m probably the most proud of our win against South Alabama,” Simpson said. “There’s no better feeling than fighting so hard to come back from a large deficit and win in overtime, especially in front of our home crowd.”
In a season that will go down in the team record books, several individual Bulldogs also made their mark on Yale history. Forward Jen Berkowitz ’18 was named to the First Team All-Ivy and scored more that 1,000 career points.
Simpson also joined her fellow senior in the 1,000-point club, earned back-to-back Ivy League Defensive Player of the Year honors, was named Second Team All-Ivy and shattered a 24-year conference record for steals in a season. Simpson recorded 130 steals on the year, five more than Dartmouth’s Betsy Gilmore did in 1993–94.
Rounding out the Bulldogs’ Big Three, guard Roxy Barahman ’20 emerged as a formidable weapon in 2017–18, raising her scoring average from last season by 8.8 points and earning herself an All-Ivy Honorable Mention.
The Elis also received an impressive boost from their talented group of first years. Guard Tori Andrew ’21 demonstrated her deadly deep-range abilities this season, knocking down 44 triples. Forward Ellen Margaret Andrews ’21 started 28 games for Yale. Proving that she is more than just a lockdown defender, the Dallas, Texas, native shot 38 percent from the field, snatched up 93 rebounds and averaged roughly seven points per contest.
“Looking back, I am just so proud of the family this program has created,” Berkowitz said. “Having 14 teammates who all feel like my sisters and have my back no matter what means everything. I think we are still in a little bit of awe that we ended the season on a win. Not many people can say that. I’m just really proud of the team’s fight, especially in the last two games.”
The Bulldogs have not won the Ivy League crown since 1979, the lone conference title in program history.
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