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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

Friday, November 8, 2013

Offensive-minded Tiger women want to continue Ivy dominance

Photo by Gregg Slaboda/ Kristen Helmstetter and Princeton have won the Ivy four straight seasons.


PRINCETON — As good of players as Niveen Rasheed and Lauren Polansky were for Princeton, putting the ball in the basket was never exactly their forte.

Though Rasheed did end up with more than 1,600 career points, anyone who saw the Princeton women play over the past four years knows her game was predicated on defense, toughness and intensity first and scoring a distant second. The same is even more true for Polansky, a 5-foot-8 point guard who despite winning the Ivy Defensive Player of the Year award three times remarkably never averaged more than three points per game.

It’s not a surprise, then, that coach Courtney Banghart is looking forward to taking charge of a team with a bit more offensive firepower.

“It’s been fun to coach a team that can score, and that’s what this team can do,” Banghart said. “We’ve spent the past three years creating offense with players that struggle to score, and now we definitely can score with this group.”

Leading the charge offensively will be the wing-guard duo of senior Kristen Helmstetter and sophomore Blake Dietrick. Though both took a bit of a back seat to Rasheed and Polansky last season, they also proved themselves extremely capable scorers. Dietrick went for 19 in just 30 minutes against Harvard, while Helmstetter finished in double-digits 14 times.

Known primarily as a 3-point specialist early in her career, Dietrick has expanded her game, incorporating many of the elements that made Polansky so successful. When Polanksy was struggling through a foot injury in the middle of last season, Dietrick stepped in, starting six games.

“I was able to come in and start a couple games, and that definitely helped me this year knowing what I had to do to help the team and doing everything possible to take as much from LP on the defensive end as I possibly can,” Dietrick said.
Her coach can see the improvement.

“We’ve asked her to be a better rebounder and she’s done that,” Banghart said. “We’ve asked her to set others up and she’s done that. We’ve asked her to go off the dribble and she’s done that. I think she could be the best lead guard in the league.

As for the versatile Helmstetter, Banghart is also expecting big things.

“The most important role on the team,” Banghart said. “Yep, the most important role. It’s her ability to play a variety of positions. She’ll play all but (point guard) all year long. She makes others better. She makes shots.”

One question mark for the Tigers will be how much they can get from senior Nicole Hung. She began last season in the starting lineup, but suffered a devastating knee injury at UCLA that required kept her out the rest of the season and from which she said she is still not completely recovered.

Helmstetter stepped in to the starting lineup in without missing much of a beat, but the young Tigers could certainly still use Hung’s veteran presence.

“She’s done all that she can do and we need her here,” Banghart said, referring to Hung’s intensive rehab. “I have full confidence that the conversation we have in March, she’ll be a part of it.”

The Tigers will also need to replace graduating center Meg Bowen and forward Kate Miller, and there appears to be a number of viable candidates. In the junior class forward Mariah Smith contributed last year, and guard Alex Rodgers is returning to the team after dealing with a back injury.

It was the sophomore class — which includes familiar names like Annie Tarakchian, Amanda Bernsten, Alex Wheatley and Michelle Miller — that really seemed to have Banghart excited.

“They are noticeably better, and I think that has to do with what happened all season,” Banghart said. “They had to guard really good players and part of it came with knowing we were going to graduate a lot.”

It will also be interesting to see if any freshmen can crack the rotation, as 6-4 Jackie Reyneke and 6-1 Vanessa Smith also drew some praise from their coach. For a team so long dominated by veterans, this season’s youth movement is a welcome breath of fresh air.

“I’m really excited,” Dietrick said. “Our young kids are awesome and have so much energy and passion for the game. They want to fight every day just like we do. They aren’t afraid when we’re down their throats about something. They listen to it and accept it because they want to get better. I really appreciate that and respect that, so I think we’re going to do pretty well this year.”

The biggest area of concern for the Tigers might be their schedule, which Banghart said is the toughest since she’s been coach. The nonconference features teams like Rutgers, Marist, Georgetown and Delaware, and Harvard, Yale and Penn all figure to be improved in league play.

Still, Banghart doesn’t seem too worried.

“I wouldn’t sugarcoat this,” Banghart said. “As a coach I’d rather tell you guys that I’m not happy, but it’s a good group. We have a long way to go, but we have the potential to be pretty darn good.”


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