Yale Daily News

As the Yale women’s basketball team prepares to start its season, it finds itself in a strange predicament: The team has only four upperclassmen. However, with a strong locker room culture and an influx of young talent, the team has high expectations for the year. 

In the 2019-20 season, the Bulldogs finished third in the Ivy League before the cancellation of the postseason tournament due to COVID-19. While many key contributors from that team have graduated, the squad returns valuable scoring and rebounding production from second-team all-Ivy selection Camilla Emsbo ’23. Captain Roxanne Nesbitt ’22 and fellow seniors Alex Cade ’22 and Robin Gallagher ’22 are ready to fill new leadership positions while head coach Allison Guth has a track record of success entering her seventh year at the team’s helm.

While the returning players’ prowess on the court may give confidence to the months ahead, the season is likely to hinge on the contributions from younger players.

“Our freshman class has been very impressive as a whole because this has been a huge adjustment for them,” Nesbitt said in an interview with the News. “They’re all adjusting to college life and playing on this level … but they still come to practice, compete and give it their all. We need them to all show up every day, and they always do.” 

While other Ancient Eight teams find themselves in similar situations, the Bulldogs are hoping to take advantage of their situation. 

Both Nesbitt and Emsbo explained that they are focusing on improving as a team rather than worrying about the rest of the league. They feel confident that if they play to their potential, this Yale squad can compete with anyone in the conference. 

“Within the league, we don’t know who’s returning,” Emsbo said. “Our main focus is learning our own team identity and really buying into that, so it doesn’t matter what the other teams in the league look like.”

Coach Guth’s leadership is a big reason why the Bulldogs are in a position to compete for league titles. In the three years prior to Guth’s promotion to head coach in 2015, the Elis finished with a record of 13–15. 

Guth has not had a losing season since her first year and has won 57 percent of her games over the course of her tenure at Yale. However, she is aware that this team will have to rebuild much of the locker room culture it lost.

“This is a unique situation to any of my 17 years of coaching,” Guth explained. “Having not played since March of 2020, there’s been so much that has been changed … There are moments I feel like I just got the job because I understand what it’s like to reintroduce culture. Culture is something that a lot of people talk about. It’s not static, it’s dynamic.”

According to Guth, team culture is not just an abstract concept.Rather, it is a set of five key values and priorities: being a great teammate, committing to a growth mindset, practicing direct communication, prioritizing winning and putting family first. All of the players interviewed mentioned the close-knit nature of the team and believe that this bond will benefit them on the court.

While the season is yet to begin, Emsbo, Nesbitt and Guth believe this team will be driven by its defense. During her time at Yale, Coach Guth has implemented a pack line scheme, which combines tough man-to-man defense with strong help at the rim. Emsbo believes this could be a key to success as it will allow the team to grind out wins on nights when the offense isn’t flowing. Nesbitt furthered that point, saying that the Bulldogs will look to use their defense to create easier opportunities to score in transition.

The incoming first-year class has quickly shown how it will be able to help this team. The group features multiple shooters to compliment Emsbo’s dynamic interior scoring ability.

Emsbo will also be getting reinforcements in the frontcourt from the class of 2025, including 6’3” power forward Grace Thybulle ’25.

“When I committed, I envisioned myself going under Camilla’s wing and following in her footsteps,” Thybulle said. Since her arrival at Yale, Thybulle has learned from all of the upperclassmen both on and off the court. “We [first-years] all look up to them a lot, not just in basketball, but they help us so much with school … I feel very close with them, and thankful to have them around, not just in practice, but all the time.”

After most recently appearing in games as sophomores, Nesbitt and Emsbo admitted that it feels a little bit strange to be among the older voices on the team. Neither is shying away from their leadership positions, but they also explained that it is leadership by committee.

“Our team is full of leaders,” Nesbitt said. “I know any deficiencies that I have as captain, it gets picked up by the rest of the upperclassmen … For me personally, I’m trying to grow using my voice. And given my limited playing experience, that might be a struggle for me, finding my place. But we’re all leaning on one another.”

The Bulldogs will begin their season on Nov. 9 when they travel to Rhode Island to take on the Providence Friars.