May 15, 2022
How Harvard’s Carrie Moore and Yale’s Dalila Eshe will shake up the Ivy League
Moore and Eshe are trailblazers off the court and looking to end Princeton's reign on it
Next season, in the 92nd women’s basketball game all-time between Harvard and Yale, there will be a first.
Carrie Moore and Dalila Eshe will walk the sidelines as the first Black female head coaches of the Crimson and Bulldogs, respectively. Their hires give Ivy League women’s basketball three head coaches of color — Columbia’s Megan Griffith, who won the Asian Coaches Association’s Coach of the Year award in 2021-22, is the third — and keep it overwhelmingly women-led.
“It’s incredibly meaningful,” Moore told The Next about making history with her hire. “I think the outpour of support and just excitement for me … a lot of that excitement was because Harvard was attaching themselves with a young, Black female to lead their program. And … [to] represent something that is so much bigger than myself in Harvard women’s basketball, and just the opportunity that is Harvard, it’s just an incredible thing.”
There are obvious similarities in Moore and Eshe’s track records: Not only did they both earn looks from WNBA teams after college and play professionally overseas, but they are also longtime assistants who have both coached at Princeton, the program that has dominated the Ivy League for the past decade-plus. They have reputations as exceptionally hard workers and ace recruiters, and now they are first-time head coaches at two of the world’s most elite universities.
Moore replaces Kathy Delaney-Smith, who led Harvard for 40 years and retired in March. Eshe steps in for Allison Guth, who spent seven years building the Yale program before becoming the head coach of Loyola Chicago in April. They are among the new coaches looking to shake up the league in the wake of unprecedented coaching turnover over the past several seasons.
Referencing her landmark hire, Eshe told The Next, “I still kind of sit with the idea of that, the magnitude of it.”
“Two of the top three programs in the Ivy League have now hired Black females as the head coach,” she added, “which is unbelievable and such an honor to be a part of … I mean, how amazing is that?”
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Their paths to the Ivy League
Moore describes herself as a grinder from Detroit. “Humble beginnings,” she said. “Blue collar.” She played at Western Michigan University with a chip on her shoulder that belied the fact that she led the nation in scoring as a senior in 2007, was the Mid-American Conference Player of the Year and set four conference records. She earned training camp contracts with the Phoenix Mercury and Chicago Sky and played overseas in Poland before becoming the director of basketball operations at Princeton in 2008.
After two seasons, Moore moved into a coaching role, and back to the Midwest, as an assistant at Creighton. She spent five seasons there before returning to Princeton as an assistant under then-head coach Courtney Banghart for three seasons.
In 2019, Banghart was hired as the head coach at North Carolina, and Moore was on the move again, too. “She was the first call I made,” Banghart told The Next. “… It was a no-brainer who I wanted to bring with me … [I wanted] to have someone who I knew could recruit and who could provide a lot of talent and who could think the game and be right with me for it.”
Moore spent two seasons in Chapel Hill before becoming the most experienced assistant coach on Michigan’s staff last season. But in November 2021, Delaney-Smith announced that she would retire at season’s end, and Moore was immediately intrigued.
“My eyes kind of lit up and I was like, ‘Oh, that would be an ideal location for me as a head coach,’” Moore said. At that point, her teams had advanced to the NCAA Tournament in six of 12 seasons and to the WNIT four times, and she would add to that with an Elite Eight run in 2022.
Meanwhile, Eshe had wanted to be an Ivy League head coach even before becoming an assistant at Princeton in 2019. She was drawn to the balance of academics and athletics; the work ethic players have on and off the court; and the level of strategy and scouting that players can handle, which she said makes it “kind of like coaching pros.” It also didn’t hurt that her father had pushed her to attend an Ivy League school, and the value he put on it “always resonated” with her even as she chose a different path.
“I’m here now, Dad. Does that count?” she said with a laugh in her introductory press conference on April 27.
Eshe played at Florida and became a second-round WNBA Draft pick in 2006 despite not being a full-time starter until her senior season. She then spent nearly a decade playing overseas on three continents and coaching youth players in her free time. Eshe entered college coaching in 2013 — while still playing professionally — as the director of basketball operations at Loyola Maryland, and after retiring from playing, she became an assistant coach at East Carolina University, La Salle and Princeton.
The opportunity at Princeton materialized in 2019, when Princeton head coach Carla Berube called then-Temple head coach Tonya Cardoza — who had coached Berube at UConn in the mid-1990s — looking for recommendations for a top assistant. Cardoza recommended Eshe, whom she knew well because Eshe’s wife, Way Veney, was on Cardoza’s staff at Temple.
“[I] talked to D on the phone and right there it was just a great conversation and we had very similar philosophies and our values were aligned,” Berube told The Next. “… [I] wanted to hire her right off the bat.”
By then, Eshe knew she wanted to be a head coach soon, and Berube encouraged that. “Dalila always presented herself like a head coach,” Berube said. “She has a great presence, she has a great demeanor, and I think our players always really took to when she spoke.” Berube credited her with helping rising junior forward Ellie Mitchell finish better in the paint and hone her mental game, and Eshe was also instrumental in recruiting incoming freshman forward Tabitha Amanze, who is ranked 43rd in the Class of 2022 by espnW.
When the Yale job opened, Eshe knew exactly how tough the Bulldogs could be. Guth took the Bulldogs from sixth place in the Ivy League in 2015-16 to third in each of the past two seasons, and they gave Princeton its stiffest regular-season challenge this season in conference play. “It’s right on the cusp right now of being able to compete on a regular basis for Ivy League championships, which is really exciting to be able to walk into a program that you can continue to build,” Eshe said.
Moore hit similar notes as she explained why she saw an opportunity to succeed at Harvard, even though other coaches might shy away from following a coach who won 11 Ivy League titles and owns the biggest upset in women’s NCAA Tournament history.
“Kathy set the standard in a lot of ways, not only in the Ivy League, but nationally in terms of everything that she accomplished,” Moore said. “… For me, it shows that there’s a chance, there’s hope, it’s been done before, and you just have to put all the pieces in place … I think it’s just a step away from being back at the top of the league.”
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Ready to be ‘electric’
As soon as Eshe was hired, she started getting texts from some of the Yale players. “They had reached out and said how excited they were, and they talked to the team and couldn’t wait,” she said, noting that she had recruited some of them during her time at Princeton. (She also coached Princeton rising senior Kira Emsbo, twin sister of Yale’s Camilla Emsbo, so the Bulldogs had a pretty good idea of who Eshe was.)
Former players also congratulated Eshe and Moore on social media, including three-time Ivy League Player of the Year Bella Alarie, who played for both coaches at Princeton. “So well deserved and so excited to watch you crush it,” she wrote to Eshe.
To Moore, Alarie wrote, “Harvard picked one of the best out there. So proud of you … I know the Ivy League missed you!”
Moore plans to implement a brand of basketball that she summarizes in one word: Toughness. She inherits a team that made the 34th-most 3-pointers in all of Division I last season, and she wants to mold them into an equally daunting defensive team. She intends to play fast and spread the court offensively, which should play right into her sharpshooters’ hands.
Like Moore, Eshe will emphasize defense, coming from a Princeton program that ranked among the top three in the nation in defensive rating in each of the past two seasons. But Berube said that the offensive end is where Eshe especially flourishes. Eshe will likely play through the 6’5 Camilla Emsbo, a unanimous First Team All-Ivy selection last season.
Eshe’s vision is to have “the hardest-working team on the floor,” and she warned her players that they would need to be in better shape than everyone else. “That starts now,” she said in her introductory press conference. But there will be fun, too, she promised.
“You’re going to see my players on the court smiling, even though they’re working hard,” Eshe told The Next. “… [Fans will] want to come and watch us because we’re working so hard, but they’re also going to be able to see the passion and the fun that my players have. And it’s going to be electric.”
Both coaches have reputations for going the extra mile, whether it’s watching more film or putting in more hours recruiting. As Eshe put it, “I’m always going to be the one that wants to work. Even if you don’t see me, I’m going to be the one behind the scenes.” As a result, a talent influx — and championships — could be coming to Cambridge and New Haven.
“She’s going to be really good because she’s going to be a lead recruiter,” Banghart said of Moore. “… She had a good eye for talent. … She’s going to be recruiting against other high-major programs where the head coach is not as involved. And she will be. She’ll put the time in with people for sure.”
Moore said she will aim high on the recruiting trail to find players with professional potential and develop them into WNBA Draft picks. “Not a lot of high-level basketball players really think about the opportunity of going to the Ivy League,” she said. “And I think you have to — at a place like Harvard especially, you have to call. … Because it is Harvard, they will listen and they will call you back.”
To end Princeton’s reign atop the league, Moore and Eshe will have to go through each other. “I’m going to shoot for the stars in year one,” Eshe said. “I think we have a lot of really, really good pieces … and we are going after an Ivy League championship.”
“The end goal is to be at the top of the league consistently and not just be okay with middle-of-the-pack finishes,” Moore said. “I think Harvard should be at the top of the league, and it deserves to be and to do what I think the Ivy League is doing now in terms of making it past the first round of the NCAA Tournament and talking about two-bid leagues and all of that. I want Harvard in the conversation for all of those things because I think it’s a place that should be there.”
What Moore and Eshe’s hires mean for the Ivy League
Moore was hired three weeks before Eshe, and her hire alone felt like a seismic moment for the Ivy League, a conference in which coaches of color made up only 8% of head coaches across all sports in 2020-21. “That’s huge for our league,” Griffith told reporters on April 8. “That’s taking a very positive step across the league and, I think, making a statement.”
Yale choosing another Black woman to lead its program seemingly only cemented the message. The 8% figure above was not broken down by sport, but it’s likely that the share of female head coaches of color in Ivy women’s basketball next season (38%) will be a high-water mark for the conference. In comparison, across all of Division I women’s basketball last season, the share of female head coaches of color was 22%.
“I think it’s an incredible statement,” Eshe said. “I think that it’s at the right time in our country with the climate and how everything has been over the last four or five years. I think this is incredibly impactful.”
“I’m really just excited for Carrie and for Dalila to make those athletic departments more diverse [and have] some more visibility for Black women,” Berube said. “… I think it’s about time that we have more Black coaches in the Ivy League and across women’s basketball.”
While Eshe and Moore are the two newest Ancient Eight head coaches, they will have plenty of fresh faces to compete with in the league, which has seen five of its eight schools hire new women’s basketball coaches since 2019. Entering the 2022-23 season, the median amount of experience for the eight head coaches in their current roles will be just 2.5 years.
|School||Coach||First Season||Years in Current Role (Entering 2022-23)|
“It’s not a league that changes over a lot,” Banghart said. She pointed out how the league’s most recognizable brands — Harvard, Yale and Princeton — have all changed coaches within the past three years, which hadn’t happened since the early 1980s. “So that’s nuts, and then you throw in Brown and Dartmouth and … it’s a totally fresh, new league.”
“I do think that we are going to see quite a lot of shake-up in the next five years,” Griffith said, “just because there are so many new people in the league.”
The fact that coaches such as Guth and Banghart are being hired away demonstrates the Ivy League’s growth. It used to be challenging for Ivy head coaches to get hired elsewhere, Banghart said, because athletic directors wondered whether they could recruit in conferences that, unlike the Ivy League, offer athletic scholarships. (Banghart’s response: “I’ve recruited without scholarships quite well. Imagine when I can offer one.”) But Ivy teams have shown over the past decade that they can compete nationally, and in 2019-20, the Ivy League was the seventh-toughest conference in the country. Now, it might be harder for coaches to decide to leave the Ivy League than to get another job.
As the new hires look to make their mark, Princeton’s ascent could also be its downfall in the Ivy League. The Tigers have won at least a share of the conference title in nine of the past 12 seasons, so it makes sense that rival athletic directors have hired coaches with Princeton ties in Griffith, Moore and Eshe. But all three of those coaches could challenge Princeton next year — particularly Griffith, whose team finished second to Princeton last season and returns all five starters.
Yet those challengers could also be exactly what Princeton needs on the national stage after being badly underseeded in the 2022 NCAA Tournament. Ivy coaches have clamored for years for a more competitive conference that can send multiple teams to the NCAA Tournament.
“Our league’s going to get better, and we need that,” Griffith said in response to Moore’s hire. “We need not just two teams to be really good; we need a lot of teams … to start winning some games and really getting better.”
“I want this league to just keep elevating,” Berube added after Eshe was hired. “I want us to be stronger as a league as a whole. So I hope that in the non-conference schedule, [Yale is] out there beating great mid-major teams to hopefully some Power 5s in the future.”
Moore and Eshe have shattered glass ceilings at Harvard, at Yale and in Ivy League women’s basketball, and they’re looking to lift their programs to new heights, too. They’ll spend the summer recruiting and sharing their visions for their programs — and, in doing so, inspiring players and coaches who may not have previously seen themselves in the Ivy League.
“‘Believe it.’ … From here on out, we’re going to say those two words every single day, and I want us to believe in all that we can accomplish,” Moore said. “And I want our fans, I want our alums, I want the entire Harvard community and Cambridge community to really believe in this kind of ‘changing of the tides’ … It’s going to be exciting.”
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.