The Princeton women’s basketball team was 26-1 and the Ivy League Tournament’s top seed when the COVID-19 pandemic ended the 2020 season.
Now the players are grateful to be back on the court, albeit with enormous shoes to fill. Two top players from that stellar 2020 season are gone: Bella Alarie ’20, who’s now playing for the Dallas Wings of the WNBA, and point guard Carlie Littlefield ’21, now playing as a graduate student for North Carolina with former Princeton coach Courtney Banghart.
“We had to move on from that pretty quickly,” said head coach Carla Berube. “We were ready to build and establish our new team and our new leadership and new sort of identity.”
Abby Meyers ’22, one of just two seniors, is stepping into a captain role along with Maggie Connolly ’23 and Julia Cunningham ’23. Kira Emsbo ’23, Grace Stone ’23, and Lexi Weger ’23 will take larger roles as well, after playing as reserves from the time they were freshmen.
Ellie Mitchell ’24 played in every game as a freshman, and Maddie Plank ’24 is back after missing her first year due to an injury. Kaitlyn Chen ’24 will aid at point guard, and five freshmen — including three over 6-foot-2 — are seeking opportunities.
“You can’t replicate college game experience any other way than actually being in it,” Berube said. “For being away as long as we have, it’s just going to take us a bit of time to get our legs and brains running on all cylinders.”
“We were ready to build and establish our new team and our new leadership and new sort of identity.” — Carla Berube, women’s basketball head coach
The men’s basketball team got a jump on this year with a productive spring. While the women’s team only had five players on campus during the spring semester, a dozen men’s players started laying the groundwork for this season.
“I was very appreciative of the way they went about their business,” said men’s head coach Mitch Henderson ’98. “There wasn’t a lot of sulking. They got after it and competed and made the best of a situation they had no control of.”
Point guard Jaelin Llewellyn ’22 and fellow captains Drew Friberg ’22 and Ethan Wright ’22 lead the Ivy League’s most experienced team. They were integral players in 2020 when Princeton went 14-13 overall, 9-5 in the league, to qualify for the Ivy tournament in third place. Max Johns ’22, Ryan Langborg ’23, and Tosan Evbuomwan ’23 all started at times, and contributor Elijah Barnes ’22 has made major leaps.
“We were really young two years ago,” Henderson said. “Now we’re old. Those guys that were sophomores are now seniors. We even had some freshmen that played significant minutes for us.”
Keeshawn Kellman ’23, Matt Allocco ’24, and Zach Martini ’24 are in position to play more, and Mason Hooks ’25, who deferred his admission by a year, leads the freshman class.
“The strength of our program for years has been the development of guys over the course of the season, improving while we go,” Henderson said. “I think this team’s going to be no different.”
The men opened Nov. 9, and the women started play Nov. 10. The Ivy season begins Jan. 2 when each plays Harvard.
“It’s more important than ever this year that we develop learning how to win in the nonconference [games],” Henderson said. “What are the factors you do every single possession when you’re coming down the court on offense and defense that are going to factor in you being successful? We just need to play in order to learn that.”