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Welcome back to the Trentonian's Full-Court Press blog. Yes, we're still alive, and with the 2015-16 season rapidly approaching, it's time to fire up the old blog for another season. Check back here throughout the year for updates on all things Rider and Princeton, including coverage of both the MAAC and Ivy League. Feel free to drop me a line on twitter @kj_franko ( or email

Thursday, November 8, 2012

HOOPS PREVIEW: Princeton women have sight set beyond Ivy title

Princeton coach Courtney Banghart/ AP Photo

PRINCETON — While the Princeton women set out to capture their fourth-straight Ivy League title this season, another goal, largely unspoken, lingers.

The Tigers stellar senior class — led by Ivy Player of the Year Niveen Rasheed and two-time Ivy Defensive Player of the Year Lauren Polansky — has never failed to capture the league crown. After last year’s heartbreaking, 67-64, loss to eighth-seeded Kansas State in the first round of the NCAA tournament, however, they are also winless in their three trips to the Big Dance.

“Fortunately, I don’t have to make the goals,” said head coach Courtney Banghart at the team’s media day. “They make the goals and I help them reach them. They want to win the league and get the bid and make a lot of noise in the non-conference, but that postseason victory means more to them than I can even put into words.”

Much like forward Ian Hummer on the men’s side, Rasheed is widely considered the best player in the Ivy League. A 6-foot forward with a full skill set, her most valuable asset may be the tenacity with which she plays. Though a bit undersized when matching up against bigger, major-conference forwards, she has a legitimate shot to keep playing after she graduates.

“It’s so rare on any level to get a kid like Niveen, in terms of her motor and what she does,” Banghart said. “We’ve been in contact with a lot of the WNBA coaches. They’ll be agents at the games. She comes with a crowd, but she deserves it.”

Polansky — the team’s point guard and Rasheed’s childhood friend from northern California, who famously talked her into choosing Princeton — isn’t the same type of scorer, but may be just as valuable with her ball-handling and pressure defense.

“She guards full court, and she’s incredibly strong,” Banghart said. “She changes the game on the defensive end.”

The Tigers, however, aren’t the same team that came so close against the Wildcats. Gone are first-team All-Ivy wing Lauren Edwards and second-team All-Ivy forward Devona Allgood, two huge cogs in the Princeton machine last season.

To have the same kind of success, they’ll need major contributions from fellow senior Megan Bowen. A post player who had limited opportunities last year due to the presence of Allgood, she scored 27 points in the team’s first scrimmage.

“She’s come a long, long way,” Banghart said of Bowen. “She’s critical to us, and that’s awesome to say. For three years, she’s built day-by-day to be ready for this year.”

Banghart also singled out two juniors, guard Nicole Hung and forward Kristen Helmstetter, as players who could make a big impact after years of guarding some of the Tigers’ best players every day in practice. They’ll both need to be aggressive with their opportunities.

“I’d like to see everybody else recognize that they are no longer role players,” Banghart said. “They are pivotal players. As long as we continue to rebound and be relentless, we’ll get there.”

Though never seriously challenged in the Ivy last season, Harvard may be the strongest conference foes the Tigers have seen in a while, with 6-foot-4 British Olympian Temi Fagbenle. Despite all their success, Banghart insists her team isn’t going to look past anyone.

“They are pretty humble,” she said. “It’s the Princeton on our chest versus whatever else is on their chests. Harvard is much improved in terms of talent; we’ll see what happens on the floor.”

A quick look at the Tigers’ non-conference schedule shows how serious they are about competing with major programs. In addition to hosting in state rival Rutgers, they’ll travel to play road games against UCLA, Delaware, Villanova and DePaul.

“This is a team that has to learn how to lose,” Banghart said. “Our schedule is really challenging. We might have to lick our wounds earlier than we might have had to. It’s worth it if it gets us better.”

If the Tigers can survive that early gauntlet intact, they’ll have a serious chance to win more than another Ivy title.


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