October 29, 2022 

2022-23 Ivy League preview

Princeton, Columbia set to battle for NCAA Tournament berths; tight race expected for Ivy League Tournament spots

One sign that times are changing in Ivy League women’s basketball materialized this fall, when four alumnae were asked to pick the favorite to win the conference in 2022-23.

Naturally, the two Princeton alumnae chose their Tigers, who came within one point of the Sweet Sixteen last season and return most of the roster. But Dartmouth alumna Lakin Roland — whose Big Green won 17 Ivy League titles between 1980 and 2009 — picked a program that had never won 10 Ivy League games in a season before 2021-22 and had finished with fewer than two Ivy wins seven times.

“Columbia looks very good,” she told The Next. “I think they have a shot.”

Indeed, this Ivy League season will feature two elite teams with legitimate NCAA Tournament hopes, Princeton and Columbia. Princeton has won nine of the past 12 regular-season titles, while Columbia has never won one. But led by a Columbia alumna and former Princeton assistant coach in Megan Griffith, the Lions have built a program to be reckoned with. They made the WNIT quarterfinals last season, and with virtually the entire roster returning, they have a legitimate chance to win the conference this season and make their first-ever NCAA Tournament.

Beyond the favorites, the other six teams fall into two tiers. Yale, Harvard and Penn are all potential challengers and were separated by just eight points in the Ivy League preseason poll. Cornell, Dartmouth and Brown are the “builders,” or teams that are still laying the foundation for future contention.

However, the entire Ivy League is much more experienced than it was a season ago. This season, every team returns at least 60% of its minutes and points from last season (and some teams return much more), whereas only two teams brought back that much talent in 2021-22. (That was partly because the Ivy League canceled sports in 2020-21 due to COVID-19, so the Classes of 2020 and 2021 both graduated during the pause.) Last season at this time, newness was a theme for the Ancient Eight; this season, that’s been replaced with continuity.

Let’s break down each team’s returners and outlook for the 2022-23 season, starting with the reigning champion and moving down the preseason poll. The summary statistics are from the teams’ websites; all other data sources are hyperlinked.


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The favorites

A photo in profile of Princeton guard Julia Cunningham shooting the ball.
Princeton guard Julia Cunningham shoots during a game against Penn at The Palestra in Philadelphia, Pa., on Jan. 17, 2022. (Photo credit: Sideline Photos)

Princeton

2021-22 record: 25-5 (14-0 Ivy, 1st in the league)
Preseason ranking: 1st (15 first-place votes, 126 total points)
Percentage of minutes returning: 82.0% (3rd-highest in the league)
Percentage of points returning: 70.7% (6th-highest in the league)

Top returners:

  • Julia Cunningham, SR guard (13.4 PPG, 5.4 RPG, 1.5 SPG in 2021-22)
  • Kaitlyn Chen, JR guard (10.5 PPG, 3.2 APG, Ivy League Tournament Most Outstanding Player)
  • Grace Stone, SR guard/forward (9.3 PPG, 3.6 RPG, 1.6 SPG)
  • Ellie Mitchell, JR forward (6.2 PPG, 10.4 RPG, 2.4 SPG, Ivy League Defensive Player of the Year)

Princeton enters the 2022-23 season on a 42-game Ivy League winning streak, with its last loss coming in February 2019 to Yale — when current head coach Carla Berube was still in charge at Tufts. After beating Kentucky and nearly beating Indiana in last season’s NCAA Tournament, Princeton became the first Ivy League women’s team ever to appear in the AP preseason poll, coming in at No. 24 this fall. (It is also ranked No. 25 in the Women’s Basketball Coaches’ Association preseason poll.)

Despite losing 2021-22 Ivy League Player of the Year Abby Meyers, the Tigers are loaded with talent and experience. Four starters return, including last season’s second- and third-leading scorers in guards Julia Cunningham and Kaitlyn Chen. Cunningham was a First-Team All-Ivy League selection last season and Chen has that potential, especially if she plays like she did when she won Most Outstanding Player of the 2022 Ivy League Tournament.

In Meyers’ absence, Berube and Cunningham both expect this year’s Tigers to be deeper and more balanced offensively. Last season, only six players averaged even 15 minutes per game, and every starter averaged over 29. This season, an elite freshman class has already been impactful in practice, Berube said at Ivy League media day on Oct. 18, though the first-years will have to beat out a lot of veterans for minutes.

“We have a really balanced scoring front,” Cunningham said at media day. “… Every night we might have a different top scorer. And as a team, I think that’s a really good thing to have because it’s really hard to scout against, but it’s also really important for us taking a little bit of pressure off those top five starters … Through the preseason, it’s been clear that we have a lot of people that can score and that are going to take opportunities to score. And our offense is really focused on that, that we’re able to attack from all five positions.”

Meanwhile, the Princeton defense will be customarily elite. Last season, Princeton ranked third in the country in points allowed per 100 possessions and in the top 15 in steal rate, opponent turnover rate and effective field goal percentage allowed. Cunningham returns as the team’s defensive stopper on the perimeter, while 6’1 forward Ellie Mitchell — last year’s Ivy League Defensive Player of the Year and “the backbone of our defense,” according to Berube — fills the same role in the paint. Mitchell both led the league in rebounds per game and ranked third in steals per game last season.

If anything, the Tigers could be even better defensively this year because they have more size. Last season, the 6’1 Mitchell and 5’11 Grace Stone started in the frontcourt, and 6’3 forward Paige Morton earned the most minutes of any frontcourt reserve — just 6.4 per game. This season, Morton, 6’5 senior Kira Emsbo (who has not played since 2018-19 due to injuries and the COVID-19 pandemic), 6’4 sophomore Parker Hill and 6’4 freshman Tabitha Amanze could all spell Mitchell and Stone. Stone could also move back to the guard position, where she played as a freshman, if Berube wants to start a bigger lineup.

Columbia guard/forward Kaitlyn Davis controls the ball, grabbing it with both hands.
Columbia guard/forward Kaitlyn Davis controls the ball against Missouri during the Christmas City Classic in Bethlehem, Pa., on Nov. 27, 2021. (Photo credit: Lehigh Athletics)

Columbia

2021-22 record: 25-7 (12-2 Ivy, 2nd)
Preseason ranking: 2nd (1 first-place vote, 108 points)
Percentage of minutes returning: 96.8% (1st)
Percentage of points returning: 98.3% (1st)

Top returners:

  • Abbey Hsu, JR guard (16.4 PPG, 4.6 RPG, 37.5% 3-point shooting in 2021-22)
  • Kaitlyn Davis, SR guard/forward (13.1 PPG, 8.3 RPG, 2.5 APG, 1.6 SPG)
  • Jaida Patrick, SR guard (9.1 PPG, 5.0 RPG)
  • Kitty Henderson, SO guard (8.3 PPG, 4.6 RPG, 2.4 APG)

Like Princeton, Columbia is coming off a historic season and could be even better this season. The Lions’ only losses in conference play last season were to Princeton, and they beat Holy Cross, Old Dominion and Boston College in their first-ever WNIT before falling to Seton Hall. They won the most games in program history and were strong on both sides of the ball, ranking in the 94th percentile in assists per game and the 93rd percentile in effective field goal percentage allowed.

Yet, according to head coach Megan Griffith, her program has another gear to reach. “We did not tap out last year,” she said at media day. “We didn’t — in terms of potential, we barely just even saw where [our] potential was, which is the scariest part about this team. … We were playing our best basketball when we ended the season, when we ended that run in the WNIT, and I really believe that we’re just again peeling back those layers for how good and how special this program can be.”

Columbia lost only backup point guard Mikayla Markham to graduation and enters the 2022-23 season with seven seniors. That group took the program from young and promising a few years ago to “loaded,” as Griffith put it. Senior guard/forward Kaitlyn Davis, a First-Team All-Ivy League selection last season, has a strong case as the most versatile player in the conference, while senior guard Jaida Patrick gave the team another dimension late in the season, starting the last 12 games and averaging 13.5 points per game in that span.

Junior guard Abbey Hsu, a two-time All-Ivy selection who is already the program’s all-time leader in career 3-pointers made, also returns. Two point guards, sophomore Kitty Henderson and senior Carly Rivera, are back, as is senior guard/forward Sienna Durr, who was the 2018-19 Ivy League Rookie of the Year.

“We only lost one player last year and then our freshmen are just learning so quick,” Hsu said. “… We’re literally just picking [up] where we took off from last year.”

A trip to Morocco and Spain in August in which the Lions played three games and bonded off the court only accelerated that growth. Patrick continued her offensive surge by leading the team in scoring twice during the tour after doing so only three times last season, and she, Davis and Hsu give Columbia arguably the best “Big Three” in the league.

Davis told reporters at media day that she is focused on being a leader this season and producing however her team needs in each game. Meanwhile, Hsu wants to be a stronger defender and has been working on that with the coaching staff.

Last season, Griffith said, the gap between Princeton and Columbia was partly because Princeton had an established tradition and knew how to win, whereas Columbia was building that on the fly. Now Columbia knows how to win, and this season could provide the payoff. The Princeton-Columbia games, on Jan. 6 at Princeton and Feb. 4 at Columbia, will be must-see television, should determine the Ivy League title, and could ignite the rivalry between the two programs.

The challengers

Wearing dark blue jerseys, Yale players huddle.
Bulldogs players huddle during the 2021-22 season. (Photo credit: Sam Rubin/Yale Athletics Strategic Communications)

Yale

2021-22 record: 16-11 (9-5, 3rd)
Preseason ranking: 3rd (85 points)
Percentage of minutes returning: 64.9% (7th)
Percentage of points returning: 61.3% (7th)

Top returners:

  • Jenna Clark, JR guard (11.2 PPG, 4.8 RPG, 5.8 APG in 2021-22)
  • Klara Astrom, JR guard (8.8 PPG, 3.9 RPG, 1.8 SPG)
  • Christen McCann, SO guard (7.8 PPG, 2.6 RPG)

Yale was picked to finish third in the conference in the preseason poll, but the news, coming one day after the poll was released, that senior star Camilla Emsbo is out for the season could change everything. Emsbo, a 6’5 center and two-time All-Ivy honoree, was Yale’s leading scorer and defensive anchor, and her absence could leave Yale on the outside looking in for the four-team Ivy League Tournament.

However, Yale has a new head coach in Dalila Eshe who is accustomed to Ivy League success, as she previously served as an assistant coach at Princeton. The Bulldogs were already a defensive-minded team last season, ranking 18th in the country in opponent points per 100 possessions, and now Eshe can add in her knowledge of what worked at Princeton. She also believes that she had a head start on connecting with her roster and analyzing its strengths and weaknesses because she recruited several Yale players and then scouted them during her tenure at Princeton.

Eshe’s vision for her team is to be defensive-minded and fast-paced. The former will be business as usual, albeit more challenging without Emsbo’s size, leadership and shot-blocking. But the pace will be an adjustment, as Yale ranked in the 37th percentile nationally last season in possessions per game.

“We’re gonna be a very hard-nosed defensive team, pressure, and just try to make our opponents very uncomfortable all the time,” Eshe said at media day. “And then from our defense … we can get out on the break. We’re gonna push the ball; we’re not gonna slow it down. We want to get out on the break and score as much as possible.”

Among the candidates to step up in the post without Emsbo are 6’2 junior Brenna McDonald, 6’2 junior Haley Sabol and 6’3 sophomore Grace Thybulle. But Yale will also likely become more perimeter-oriented and lean on junior guards Jenna Clark and Klara Astrom. Clark led the Ivy League in assists per game last season and was named to this year’s preseason watch list for the Nancy Lieberman Award, which honors the nation’s best point guard.

“There’s been a couple times in practice,” said Eshe, a former post player, “where I look at some of my assistant coaches and we’ll say, ‘Gosh, I would have loved to play with her!’”

Astrom complements Clark as a two-way shooting guard who is physical and unafraid to shoot threes, and sophomore guard Christen McCann, who often guarded the opponent’s best perimeter player last season, also returns. Lola Lesmond, a 6’ freshman guard and the composite* No. 99 prospect in the nation, should compete for minutes, too.

“This year, I’m gonna have to step up a lot more compared to last year,” Astrom said. “I think being a vocal leader, bringing the energy, bringing the grit every game, I think that’s very important … I just gotta bring it more than last season.”

Harvard guard Harmoni Turner, wearing a white pinnie, dribbles against guard Maggie McCarthy, wearing a black pinnie.
Harvard guard Harmoni Turner (14) dribbles against guard Maggie McCarthy (11) during Harvard’s Crimson Madness preseason event at Lavietes Pavilion in Allston, Mass., on Oct. 14, 2022. (Photo credit: Dylan Goodman)

Harvard

2021-22 record: 13-14 (7-7 Ivy, T-4th)

Preseason ranking: 4th (81 points)
Percentage of minutes returning: 69.9% (5th)
Percentage of points returning: 76.7% (4th)

Top returners:

  • Harmoni Turner, SO guard (15.9 PPG, 6.5 RPG, 2.4 SPG, Ivy League Rookie of the Year in 2021-22)
  • McKenzie Forbes, SR guard (14.1 PPG, 2.5 APG, 34.9% 3-point shooting)
  • Lola Mullaney, JR guard (12.7 PPG, 3.7 RPG, 33.5% 3-point shooting)
  • Maggie McCarthy, SR guard (7.7 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 2.8 APG, 35.2% 3-point shooting)

Carrie Moore, the new head coach at Harvard, also has Princeton ties: She was on the sideline for part of the Tigers’ current run of dominance before spending the last three seasons at North Carolina and Michigan. Moore replaces Kathy Delaney-Smith, who had led Harvard for 40 years before retiring last spring, and she is looking to instill a fresh culture in a program that won 11 Ivy League titles between 1985-86 and 2007-08 but none since.

Moore’s motto for the program is “Believe it,” and by all accounts, the players have bought into the idea that they can compete with anyone — including Princeton, whom they lost to by just four points in the Ivy Tournament semifinals last season.

“We’ve always known that we can compete at the highest level,” senior guard Maggie McCarthy said at media day. “… We have a really focused energy with this new staff, new players, our incoming people, too. So I think with every day, we’re just getting better and we’re gonna really compete every game and prove it.”

Although Moore is putting her own stamp on the program, her system won’t be a complete overhaul from Delaney-Smith’s. Moore wants to emphasize pace and floor spacing, and she has the personnel to do it: Several guards return from a team that ranked in the 96th percentile nationally last season in the share of its points that came from 3-point range and in the 82nd percentile in points per 100 possessions. “We can put some numbers up for sure,” Moore said.

Those guards include sophomore Harmoni Turner, the reigning Ivy League Rookie of the Year and the team’s leader in scoring, rebounding and steals last season; McCarthy, who led the team in assists and shot a team-best 35.2% from deep (minimum two attempts per game); junior Lola Mullaney, who made a team-high 59 3-pointers; and senior McKenzie Forbes, the team’s second-leading scorer and second-best 3-point shooter.

But Harvard was undersized last season, sometimes playing with five guards on the floor, and suffered defensively as a result. This season, Moore hopes to use more traditional lineups with 6’2 sophomore Elena Rodriguez or 6’1 freshman Katie Krupa as versatile, floor-spacing centers.

Moore is also emphasizing defense and wants opponents to “be taken aback” by Harvard’s intensity on that end of the court. She wants her team to play aggressively and consistently on defense and narrow the gap between its offensive and defensive numbers. Last season, the Crimson ranked in only the 38th percentile in points allowed per 100 possessions, which contributed to their 7-7 regular-season Ivy record despite having the league’s highest-scoring offense.

“That’s one of the best parts of playing basketball, too. If you play good defense, that translates to automatic good fast breaks on the other end,” McCarthy said. “… I’m super excited for that because we have a lot of athletic players. We’re well conditioned and super prepared to run the floor this season.”

Penn forward Jordan Obi shoots despite defensive pressure.
Penn forward Jordan Obi shoots during a game against Saint Joseph’s at The Palestra in Philadelphia, Pa., on Dec. 7, 2021. (Photo credit: Hunter Martin)

Penn

2021-22 record: 12-14 (7-7 Ivy, T-4th)
Preseason ranking: 5th (77 points)
Percentage of minutes returning: 67.0% (6th)
Percentage of points returning: 71.1% (5th)

Top returners:

  • Kayla Padilla, SR guard (18.5 PPG, 4.2 APG, 36.8% 3-point shooting in 2021-22)
  • Jordan Obi, JR forward (14.0 PPG, 7.5 RPG, 1.2 BPG)
  • Mandy McGurk, SR guard (4.9 PPG, 2.3 RPG, 1.4 SPG)

For most of the 2010s, Penn was Princeton’s primary foil, winning the Ivy League regular-season title four times and coming in second three times. But Penn finished fifth and missed the Ivy League Tournament last season as it struggled to find consistency outside of then-junior star Kayla Padilla.

Penn was picked to finish fifth again this season, but with Padilla back and an experienced core around her, the Quakers could leapfrog Harvard and/or Yale and make the tournament.

“Our number one goal right now is to find a way to get back into the playoff,” head coach Mike McLaughlin declared at media day. “… I think we’re a little bit further along [than at this time last season]. … [The players have] been playing together. So I think the continuity piece is something that we’re aiming for quicker than we had last year.”

McLaughlin will rely heavily on Padilla, the Ivy League Rookie of the Year in 2019-20 and a two-time All-Ivy honoree, and junior Jordan Obi, the heir apparent to former Penn star Eleah Parker in the post. Last season, Padilla led the league in scoring at 18.5 points per game and ranked third with 4.2 assists per game, and she is one of the favorites to win Ivy League Player of the Year this season. Obi, meanwhile, ranked in the top 10 in scoring (14.0 points per game) and rebounding (7.5 per game) in her first season of college competition last year.

“I’m just going to continue to lead by example,” Padilla said, “by working hard every single day and making sure that I’m not only maintaining my strengths, but also working on my weaknesses … I think the biggest thing for me is just being the best leader I can and then just helping get our team to the places where we want to go.”

But McLaughlin also sees depth around Padilla and Obi, including senior guard Mandy McGurk, whom he called “the heart and soul of the way we compete every day.” 6’4 junior Floor Toonders, a transfer from Florida who ranked in the top quintile nationally in rebounding rate and block rate last season, will complement Obi and give the Quakers one of the taller frontcourts in the conference. And McLaughlin identified sophomore guard Stina Almqvist, junior guard Michaela Stanfield and senior forward Silke Milliman as players who have particularly elevated their game from last season.

McLaughlin is also focusing heavily on defense, which has anchored Penn’s success over the past decade. Since 2013-14, Penn has led the Ivy League in defensive rating four times and ranked worse than third just once — last season. McLaughlin is not only emphasizing defense in practice, but also sharing statistics with his team that demonstrate its importance.

“If we want to get back to the tournament, we have to hang our [hat] defensively on something,” McLaughlin said. “If it’s zone, if it’s pressures, if it’s man, whatever we decide to play, we have to be really good at it. And we’re going to get there.”


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The builders

Cornell players in white game jerseys and black warm-up shirts huddle.
Cornell players huddle during a game against UMass Lowell at Newman Arena in Ithaca, N.Y., on Dec. 1, 2021. (Photo credit: Eldon Lindsay/Cornell Athletics)

Cornell

2021-22 record: 9-16 (4-10 Ivy, 6th)
Preseason ranking: 6th (41 points)
Percentage of minutes returning: 63.8% (8th)
Percentage of points returning: 60.5% (8th)

Top returners:

  • Olivia Snyder, SR guard (9.3 PPG, 7.3 RPG in 2021-22)
  • Ania McNicholas, SR guard (8.5 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 2.1 SPG)
  • Shannon Mulroy, SR guard (8.0 PPG, 2.9 APG)

The Big Red were picked to finish sixth in the Ivy League, the same place as they ended last season. But despite that stable ranking, Cornell is facing a lot of turmoil. Its best player, forward Theresa Grace Mbanefo, graduated, and its leading returning scorer, senior guard Olivia Snyder, has not been cleared to play yet after tearing her ACL in mid-January. Several other players are coming back from more recent injuries, including sophomore forward and potential breakout candidate Summer Parker-Hall.

In addition, Cornell has seven juniors and seniors, but head coach Dayna Smith said her team is “pretty inexperienced” because many of those upperclassmen have played limited minutes. (Indeed, the Big Red return the lowest percentage of minutes and points from 2021-22 in the conference.)

“A lot of open playing time [is] available for our team this year,” Smith said at media day, “and [we’re] just trying to get a feel for who we are, what we can become … We’re still in some growing pains right now.”

Smith admitted that she isn’t sure yet how her team will play on either end of the court. She often asks players such as Parker-Hall and senior guard Shannon Mulroy, “What is this team’s identity going to be?” Some of the program’s trademark grit is evident, Smith said, but it’s not consistent yet.

Smith wants to retool the offense after the Big Red finished last season in the bottom 5% of teams nationally in effective field goal percentage and points per 100 possessions, but that will be a process. And defensively, she hasn’t determined whether her team will play a more aggressive man-to-man defense or a zone.

What she does know is that Mulroy and Parker-Hall will need to play big roles, especially before Snyder returns. It may also take time for Snyder, a “shifty” guard, to adjust her game as she regains her athleticism and burst after surgery, Smith said.

Last season, Mulroy averaged 7.8 points and a team-high 2.7 assists in just under 29 minutes per game. Parker-Hall chipped in 2.8 points and 3.0 rebounds in just over 17 minutes per game but should see her minutes increase this season in Mbanefo’s absence. Smith believes that Mulroy and Parker-Hall complement each other with their play, as Mulroy is the “fiery and feisty” one and Parker-Hall is “that motivator on the court.”

Cornell will use its nonconference schedule to try to establish its identity, determine a rotation, and get comfortable with its systems on both ends of the court. The goal is to be ready for Ivy League play — and potentially surprise some opponents.

“It’s crazy how good our league has become,” Smith said. “… It’s going to be a challenge to get to that fourth place [to qualify for the Ivy Tournament]. A team like us, we’re really going to have to scrap and develop.”

Dartmouth guard Mia Curtis, wearing a white jersey and bright pink headband, dribbles as Columbia guard Kitty Henderson tries to stay in front.
Dartmouth guard Mia Curtis (5) dribbles against Columbia guard Kitty Henderson (10) during the 2021-22 season. (Photo credit: Doug Austin)

Dartmouth

2021-22 record: 3-23 (2-12 Ivy, 7th)
Preseason ranking: 7th (32 points)
Percentage of minutes returning: 74.3% (4th)
Percentage of points returning: 77.0% (3rd)

Top returners:

  • Mia Curtis, JR guard (6.8 PPG, 2.3 RPG in 2021-22)
  • Mekkena Boyd, JR guard (6.0 PPG, 3.5 RPG, 1.4 SPG)
  • Doreen Ariik, SO forward (4.0 PPG, 5.7 RPG)

After winning just two Ivy League games last season in head coach Adrienne Shibles’ first year with the Big Green, Dartmouth is optimistic about its future. Much of Shibles’ staff from last season turned over, wooed by head coaching jobs, but the culture has solidified and the players have gained experience. Last season, Dartmouth returned the lowest percentage of minutes and points from 2019-20 of any Ivy League team, whereas this season, it ranks in the upper half of the conference with about three-quarters of its minutes and points returning from 2021-22.

As part of the program’s new culture, Shibles and her staff have introduced a “grit index” in practice, which measures things such as rebounding and winning 50-50 balls that they consider part of their program’s identity. “I really want our identity to be around that sort of mental and physical toughness that’s required to rise as a program to be a championship culture,” Shibles said at media day.

However, Dartmouth will need to make a significant jump offensively in order to contend in the conference, as it ranked last in the nation last season in field goal percentage and points per scoring attempt and second-to-last in points per game. No player averaged even seven points per game last season; now-junior guard Mia Curtis was the leading scorer with 6.8 points per game, and classmate Mekkena Boyd added 6.0.

For Shibles, that improvement starts with limiting turnovers, as the Big Green averaged 18.4 per game last season. “We have to value the possession more,” she said. She hopes that her players are more consistent offensively, and rather than having one or two go-to scorers, she expects players such as senior forward Emma Koch, sophomore forward Grace Niekelski and sophomore guard Victoria Page to step up to support Curtis and Boyd.

If those players can add both 3-point shooting and slashing to the basket, even better: Last season, the Big Green took a lot of threes but only made about a quarter of them, and they earned the second-fewest trips to the free throw line in Division I.

The Big Green also have work to do defensively, as they let opponents register a 46.7% effective field goal percentage, allowed 14.1 offensive rebounds per game, and blocked only 2.2 shots per game. Those numbers all ranked in the bottom third of Division I teams. Shibles said at media day that she wants her team to protect the paint better and pressure the ball more — and that she sees clear signs of progress.

“We work a lot on defense each and every day … I’m really loving what I’m seeing from my team with regard to all of those concepts and looking forward to seeing what they do this season,” she said.

Brown guard Isabella Mauricio dribbles as Harvard guard Harmoni Turner defends.
Brown guard Isabella Mauricio dribbles against Harvard guard Harmoni Turner during a game at the Pizzitola Sports Center in Providence, R.I., on Jan. 7, 2022. (Photo credit: David Silverman)

Brown

2021-22 record: 6-20 (1-13 Ivy, 8th)
Preseason ranking: 8th (26 points)
Percentage of minutes returning: 88.4% (2nd)
Percentage of points returning: 92.9% (2nd)

Top returners:

  • Isabella Mauricio, SO guard (14.4 PPG, 2.1 APG, 34.1% 3-point shooting in 2021-22)
  • Kyla Jones, JR guard (12.9 PPG, 2.3 APG, 2.7 SPG)
  • Charlotte Jewell, JR guard (7.4 PPG, 3.9 RPG)

After Brown finished last in the Ancient Eight last season, well out of Ivy Tournament contention, guards Isabella Mauricio and Kyla Jones decided to make it there anyway. They traveled to Harvard, as did head coach Monique LeBlanc and her staff, to see the level of competition and the atmosphere.

This season, Brown will again be hard-pressed to make the tournament as it continues its rebuilding process under LeBlanc, much like Shibles is doing with Dartmouth. Brown returns its top six scorers and over 88% of its minutes from last season, but more than half of the roster is still freshmen and sophomores.

“With the [preseason] poll, it’s fair,” LeBlanc said at media day of Brown’s projected last-place finish. “That’s where we finished last year. I think that we need to go out there and prove that that’s not where we are, or that’s not who we think we are.”

LeBlanc previously led Merrimack from five wins in 2011-12 to consecutive 20-win seasons in 2018-19 and 2019-20, and she understands that Brown’s turnaround will not happen overnight.

“There’s just no shortcut for building a winning program and a program that is sustainable,” she said. “… We’re still in a building phase in our program. What’s exciting is I think that we’ve increased the talent level in our gym, and that has helped increase the compete level in our gym. So we’re seeing ourselves start to develop better habits. We’re able to have higher standards when it comes to results we expect in our drills … That’s been really exciting.”

One difference from last season is that now, in her second season of competition with the Bears, the returners understand LeBlanc’s system, have bought into the culture, and can help guide the newcomers. Mauricio and Jones are the top returning scorers and set the standard in different ways. Mauricio, now a sophomore, is the team’s best shooter and is seemingly always in the gym, while Jones, now a junior, led the league last season with 2.7 steals per game.

“I think me being out there and getting the steals definitely drives the fire in everybody else and it makes everybody else run harder, play harder,” Jones said at media day. “So I definitely think it’s important, and I love being the lead on the defense.”

Last season provided the first college games for both players after COVID-19 canceled Jones’ freshman season, so opponents will likely be able to scout them even more thoroughly this season. Mauricio insisted that she’s ready for the challenge, and Jones said that the Bears have more offensive options to help take pressure off her and Mauricio.

For now, at least, there is also no pressure on the Bears based on their preseason ranking. But Mauricio is ready to make her team a target.

“Nobody has any expectations that we’re going to go anywhere,” she said. “… We have nothing to lose. So I’m ready to go out there every day and attack it with an edge and make it to the [Ivy] tournament.”


* Composite rankings are drawn from an aggregation of ESPN, ASGR, Prep Girls, Blue Star and Prospects Nation.

Written by Jenn Hatfield

Jenn Hatfield has been a contributor to The Next since December 2018 and is currently the site's managing editor, Washington Mystics beat reporter and Ivy League beat reporter. Her work has also appeared at FiveThirtyEight, Her Hoop Stats and FanSided.

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