Cowher ’08 finds more ways to score

Women's basketball star adds to her arsenal

By Ashley Wolf ’08
Published in the January 23, 2008, issue

Meagan Cowher ’08 has climbed to fourth on Princeton's career scoring list.
Beverly Schaefer
Meagan Cowher ’08 has climbed to fourth on Princeton's career scoring list.

Meagan Cowher ’08 lead the Ivy League in scoring last year, and she could be the top scorer in Princeton's women's basketball history by the end of this season. But when first-year head coach Courtney Banghart came to town in May, she immediately laid out an improvement plan.  Banghart, a former Dartmouth assistant coach, had been scouting Cowher for three years, so she knew the star's few weaknesses, including her limited skill set with her back to the basket. 

"Meg's been able to score as much as she wanted going right," Banghard said, so Ivy coaches have tried to shut down Cowher's right-handed post moves. Banghart and assistant coach Melanie Halker worked with Cowher to develop moves in all directions, and so far, the work has paid off: Cowher has averaged 18.1 points against a challenging set of nonleague opponents, a point more than she scored against non-Ivy teams last season.

The 6-foot-1-inch Cowher often matches up with players who are taller and stronger, but her athleticism and persistence overcome the deficiency. "I feel more comfortable [in the post]," she said. "I use my speed and the mismatch. I like to think I'm deceptively strong."

To complement her low-post moves, Cowher also shoots smooth midrange turnaround jump shots and threads passes to teammates on the perimeter. Through Jan. 1, Cowher ranked fourth on Princeton's all-time scoring list, with 1,392 points. To knock Sandi Bittler ’90 fromt he top spot, she will need 18.3 points per game for the season's remaining 16 games.

"In the moment, it's hard to get the historical perspective," Cowher said. "It's an honor to be considered in the rank of all the great players who have come through the women's program."

Cowher was recently named as one of 50 candidates for the Naismith Trophy, the most prestigious award in college basketball. Despite her dominance, Cowher is far from the most famous member of her family. Her father, Bill Cowher, is the former head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers, and her mother, Kaye Cowher, was a professional basketball player.

As an 8-year-old, Meagan was called upon to referee one-on-one basketball games between her parents. They were so competitive they couldn’t play without a mediator. “We’re a competitive family to the core,” Meagan said. “Going into sports was natural.”

Kaye inspired Meagan’s love for basketball, teaching her in the driveway and coaching her youth teams, but Meagan was a football fanatic first. “That curly-haired girl going nuts on the sidelines in Remember the Titans — that was me as a child,” Meagan said. During the preseason, she’d shadow her father on the sidelines, and when relegated to the coaches’ box, she would second-guess his decisions and call him out afterward.

Cowher’s most successful season at Princeton came in 2006, a few weeks after her father won his Super Bowl ring. The Tigers faced the toughest road trip of the year with two crucial games against Harvard and Dartmouth and won both on their way to a three-way tie for the championship. “That year the team was very special,” Cowher said. “We really just executed our game plans both those days, which put us in contention for the Ivy League title.”

The 2006–07 season brought frustration and a .500 league record for a Princeton squad that held itself to a high standard. This year, Banghart has reinvigorated the team with a new offense and defense, and the Tigers have started to click. Competitive non-league losses to Rutgers, California, and Syracuse suggest that Princeton is ready to handle anything the Ivy League throws its way.

Leading the team is Cowher, doing whatever the Tigers need most. As a senior captain, she has shouldered additional responsibility, and Banghart has confidence in her leadership.

“She’s really special,” Banghart said. “Often the best player is not the most coachable, but she believes in being a teammate. ... She’s at the center of what we do."

Ashley Wolf ’08 is a molecular biology major from Montville, N.J.
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