Five years ago, when women’s basketball was a middling Ivy League team, an NCAA Tournament win would have seemed like a long shot. The Princeton women had never even played in the tournament. For the last four seasons, though, it was well within the realm of possibility. The Class of 2013 — Niveen Rasheed, Lauren Polansky, Megan Bowen, and Kate Miller — redefined the program’s expectations, almost from the moment they stepped onto the practice court.
All four seniors were in the starting lineup for their final chance at a postseason win March 24, when No. 9 seed Princeton faced No. 8 seed Florida State in Waco, Texas. But the Seminoles stymied the Tigers’ offense, handing Princeton its fourth first-round defeat.
While Princeton never looked intimidated, executing a complicated set of defensive schemes to contain one of the country’s most explosive offenses, the Tigers struggled mightily to put the ball in the basket, making just over 20 percent of their first-half shots. Even when they cut the Seminoles’ lead to one point midway through the second half, Florida State appeared to be in command — and proved it, scoring 16 of the next 18 points in a 60–44 win. “We never really played well enough to feel we were over the hump,” head coach Courtney Banghart said.
In the last four years, Princeton has beaten several of the upper-tier programs (including Southern California, Villanova, and Rutgers), dominated the Ivies (a 54–2 record in league games), and briefly appeared in the AP Top 25.
Even with the loss of Rasheed, arguably the best women’s basketball player the Ivy League has ever seen, the Tigers seem to be in good hands, with top reserves Blake Dietrick ’15, Mariah Smith ’15, Michelle Miller ’16, and Alex Wheatley ’16 poised to step into starting roles. “This program is not taking a downturn at all,” Rasheed said after the Florida State game. “We’re reloading every year.”
But in the short term, that was little consolation for the seniors — or for Banghart. Former players knew the coach would take the loss hard, and they reached out from all corners of the world, expressing their pride in the program. When you get those calls and messages, Banghart said, “you know you’re doing something right.”
Brett Tomlinson is PAW’s digital editor and writes frequently about sports.