On March 19, Princeton women’s basketball fell in the NCAA Tournament’s Round of 32 to Utah, 63-56, after holding the Utes to their fourth-lowest scoring total of the season. Despite a somber ending, the Tigers completed another season that will be remembered for years to come.
Head coach Carla Berube was emotional when she reflected on the season, and her final moments with this edition of the Tigers. “I’m just so happy that I get to coach them every single day,” she said. “When I put on my Princeton shirt every day and represent them it’s such a great gift.”
Though five seniors will be graduating, the future of Princeton women’s basketball looks bright, particularly for the junior class that led the postseason charge.
Forward Ellie Mitchell ’24 has been the Tigers’ defensive engine all year, and she ended the season averaging 11.3 rebounds and 2.5 steals per game. With 338 total rebounds on the season, Mitchell broke Princeton’s single-season rebounding record of 311, which she set during the 2021-22 season, and currently sits at fourth all-time in career rebounds. With 74 total steals, she tied Claire Tomasiewicz ’79’s 1978-79 season for seventh in single-season steals, and moved up to ninth all-time in steals. Mitchell also more than doubled her total blocks on the season compared to last year, boosted her assist-to-turnover ratio above 1.0, and improved her overall field goal percentage.
Her performance earned high praise from Dan Hughes, a two-time WNBA coach of the year, who was on the call for both of Princeton’s NCAA Tournament games: “Ellie Mitchell, oh, my gosh,” he told the Locked On Women’s Basketball Podcast. “She just had a presence defensively, and [in] rebounding, that you just don’t see very often on teams, especially at the collegiate level.”
Mitchell finished the season with a near double-double of 18 rebounds and nine points, along with three assists, two steals, and three blocks — all while drawing the primary defensive assignment of Utah’s star forward Alissa Pili.
Mitchell said her performance reflected a mindset that’s woven into the fabric of the team. “It’s a 40-minute game and you’re always in it until that last buzzer sounds,” she said. “We all bought into it and we really feed off of each other. We’re always going to fight no matter how the game is going.”
Junior guard Kaitlyn Chen became the standard bearer for the Tigers in many ways, but it was her offensive abilities that led the way in the postseason. Her 487 points on the season were enough for sixth in Princeton’s history, and after just two years with the Tigers, she’s 198 points shy of the 1,000-point club. Chen also increased her rebounds (offensive rebounds in particular), assists, and free throw attempts per game.
“She’s got ice in her veins, like no moment is too big,” Berube said after the win over N.C. State. “She never hangs her head, she’s always positive. You see that she plays with a lot of joy.”
Chen led the Tigers in their final game with 19 points, six rebounds, and two assists, including a couple of key buckets to keep Princeton within arm’s reach of Utah. The two-time Ivy Tournament MVP and reigning Ivy Player of the Year has one more season with Princeton, one she’ll share with former high school teammate Ashley Chea, who will join the Tigers next year.
Other Tigers racked up valuable tournament experience this year. Ivy League Rookie of the Year Madison St. Rose was instrumental in the final plays that secured Princeton’s win over N.C. State. Sophomore centers Paige Morton and Parker Hill got in a couple of minutes between both games, as did junior Chet Nweke. The current No. 64 recruit in the country, Fadima Tall, has verbally committed to Princeton as of Aug. 11, and last year's No. 43 recruit, Tabitha Amanze, may make her debut as she continues to recover from a knee injury.
With Ivy League regular season and tournament titles, a near sweep of regular season awards, 16-straight wins, and a No. 10 seed in March Madness, Princeton proved it could continue its postseason success without the 2021-22 season’s leading star, Abby Meyers ’22. Next year, as the Class of 2023 moves on, the Tigers will try to repeat that feat.
Isabel Rodrigues ’23, a sports writer for The Daily Princetonian, covered the NCAA Tournament games in Salt Lake City, Utah.