Steve Musco

For the first time in program history, the Yale women’s basketball team won 15 or more games in three straight seasons. But despite finishing with 16 wins, the Bulldogs ended the 2018–19 season with a sour taste in their mouths and seemingly few reasons to celebrate after narrowly missing out on the Ivy League Tournament — which was contested on their home floor, John J. Lee Amphitheatre, in mid-March.

Following back-to-back losses in the final weekend of Ivy play to eventual co-champions Penn and Princeton, the Elis (16–13, 6–8 Ivy) found themselves in a three-way tie with Cornell and Dartmouth for fourth place. The Big Red earned the final spot in Ivy Madness thanks to a season sweep of the Bulldogs and a 1–1 record against the Big Green.

“It doesn’t feel like a great season now because we didn’t get to the tournament, and those 10 wins in the preseason just feel so long ago,” captain Gabby Nelson ’19 said. “But we really celebrated the highs, and in the lows, we never lost the competitive edge or the effort. There were some nights when we just couldn’t put it together.”

Going into the final weekend of the regular season, the Bulldogs were in control of their own destiny, needing at least one win against the two teams that have dominated the Ancient Eight in the past nine years to advance. After overcoming a slow start against Penn — the Quakers outscored the Bulldogs 18–8 in the opening quarter — Yale eventually evened the score at 40–40 heading into the final period. But Penn pulled away with a 10–0 run just over a minute into the fourth, with dominant center Eleah Parker shooting seven of her 29 points. The Bulldogs eventually fell 65–56.

In the regular season finale, the Bulldogs were put to the test against the defending Ivy League champion Princeton, which boasted two-time Ivy League Player of the Year Bella Alarie. But Yale failed to replicate the offensive prowess that carried it to victory in the first matchup with the Tigers.

The Elis were down by as many as 14 in the second quarter but rallied back to within two in the third. Silencing the energized home crowd at JLA that had gathered for Alumnae Weekend on March 8 and 9, the Tigers orchestrated a late 19–2 run to end the Elis’ season. The Bulldogs failed to find an answer to Alarie’s offensive arsenal, allowing the 6-foot-4-inch guard/forward to pour in 31 points along with 13 rebounds and six assists.

“With Penn and Princeton we just couldn’t contain their leading scorers,” point guard Roxy Barahman ’20 said. “We needed to limit their touches, and we had a number of people trying to guard them, but we’ll definitely work on one-one-one scenarios more next season because on all the top teams, all five players on the floor can score. We started to take the [pack-line] and the help [defense] it provides for granted.”

The young Bulldogs gained valuable experience matching up with elite talent like Parker and Alarie. Experience, or lack thereof, likely proved to be their downfall as the season progressed.

After elevating themselves to second in the conference standings in mid-February, Yale tumbled down the rankings with a string of tight losses to Penn, Cornell and Dartmouth. As the losses began to pile up, the Bulldogs were unable to sustain their early season momentum and slipped down the Ancient Eight totem pole.

“The inexperience was with being so close to the top and having to maintain that first or second place because we’ve been fighting for that last spot the last three years,” Nelson said. “So it’s about, once you’re there and you’ve got what you want, how you sustain it and not get imposter syndrome.”

Still, the Bulldogs have had moments to celebrate in the last five rollercoaster months. In a historic win on the road against Princeton in early February, the Elis’ record-setting 96-point performance earned the team its first victory at Jadwin Gymnasium in a decade. Yale also finished sixth in the nation in defensive rebounding, averaging 30 defensive boards a game.

On the individual level, forward Camilla Emsbo ’22 was named Ivy League Rookie of the Week seven times, more than any other newcomer in the league — although she lost Rookie of the Year honors to Columbia guard Sienna Durr. In her first season as a Bulldog, Emsbo started all 29 games and averaged 11 points and 7.9 rebounds per game. Her 1.8 blocks per game also ranked second in the Ivy League.

Fellow rookies guard Mackenzie Hewitt ’22 and guard Robin Gallagher ’22 also contributed valuable minutes for the Elis, and Gallagher’s breakout 17-point performance against Dartmouth was crucial in keeping the Elis in the contest.

“Coming into this season we were really excited about the freshmen and they’ve proved how talented they are,” forward Alex Cade ’21 said. “It’s given us a lot of confidence going into next year.”

The Bulldogs will have the added luxury of bringing back one of the top floor generals in the conference going into next season. Just days after passing the 1,000-point mark, Barahman, who was the only conference player to rank in the top 12 in points, steals, rebounds and assists, was honored with her first career first-team All-Ivy selection. Barahman’s buzzer-beating half-court heave to beat nemesis Harvard 65–62 was one of the season’s signature highlights.

Next season, the Elis will also look forward to welcoming back the healthy forward Ellen Margaret Andrews ’21, who is also a staff reporter for the News. Andrews stopped playing after just five games into the preseason due to an ACL and meniscus tear.

The Bulldogs have not won the Ivy League crown since 1979, the lone conference title in program history.

Julianna Lai | julianna.lai@yale.edu