Entering the final week of the Ivy League season last March, the men’s basketball team held a half-game lead over Harvard in the standings. Three wins would guarantee the Tigers a trip to the NCAA Tournament.
But losses at Brown and Yale, coupled with a pair of Harvard wins, reversed Princeton’s fate in a span of two days. By the time the Tigers regrouped in a Tuesday-night win at Penn, the Crimson already had secured their second straight championship.
For the returning players, last season’s finish provided a bitter lesson in how quickly things can change. Will Barrett ’14 said that he thinks about those games every night before he goes to bed. T.J. Bray ’14 drew on the experience for motivation while lifting weights in the offseason. “That last weekend,” Bray said, “I don’t want it to define my career.”
Beginning in January, Bray and his teammates will have a fresh chance to chase the Ivy title. But first, the Tigers will have to work on replacing top scorer and rebounder Ian Hummer ’13, last season’s Ivy Player of the Year.
Princeton faces an uphill climb, partly because of Hummer’s departure and partly because of how good Harvard may be. The Crimson return four starters from last year and two others from their 2011–12 team, Kyle Casey and Brandyn Curry, who took leave last year in the wake of a cheating scandal at Harvard.
Princeton has four returning starters — Bray, Barrett, Denton Koon ’15, and Hans Brase ’16 — and coach Mitch Henderson ’98 said he will rely on a host of players to make up for the contributions of Hummer, who averaged 16.3 points per game last year. Freshman forwards Pete Miller and Spencer Weisz headline a promising group of newcomers. Ben Hazel ’15 and Jimmy Sherburne ’14, guards who missed last season due to injuries, also should see significant time on the court.
Women’s basketball, winner of four straight Ivy titles, also enters the season looking to find scoring and rebounding to make up for the loss of its Ivy Player of the Year, Niveen Rasheed ’13. Only one starter returns — Kristen Helmstetter ’14 — but the Tigers still were voted the league favorite in the preseason media poll.
Helmstetter, a 6-foot forward, combines a quick, agile presence on the perimeter with the strength to score near the basket and compete for rebounds. Coach Courtney Banghart said she expects her to play every position except point guard.
The point guard spot belongs to Blake Dietrick ’15, who averaged more minutes than starter Lauren Polansky ’13 last year and led the team with 52 3-pointers. Also back in action for the Tigers are high-scoring sophomores Michelle Miller and Alex Wheatley, and senior guard Nicole Hung, who was sidelined for most of last season with a knee injury.
Because of inexperience and a challenging schedule, Banghart said this season’s Tigers might not be able to match the impressive nonconference records of recent seasons (42–18 in the last four years). But she does expect her team to fare well against its Ivy rivals.
“We definitely can score,” Banghart said. “We’ve just got to build the right blocks defensively and on the glass — the toughness points. I think if this team gains toughness on a daily basis, I really like where we’ll be by the end of the year.”