March 9, 2022 

‘Strong like a diamond’: How Princeton’s Abby Meyers became the gem of the Ivy League

The senior has been one of the nation's most efficient offensive players in her first year as a starter

On Princeton women’s basketball’s Senior Day on March 4, senior guard Abby Meyers showed much of what she brings to the Tigers on a single possession. She rebounded teammate Julia Cunningham’s missed 3-pointer, missed the put-back, got her own rebound and put up an alley-oop floater to beat the first-half buzzer. She pumped her fist and smiled broadly when the ball went in, punctuating a 13-0 run against archrival Penn.

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Princeton has gotten plenty of buckets, rebounds and smiles from Meyers this season en route to a 22-4 overall record and a 14-0 mark in Ivy League play. This week, the Tigers co-captain was named the unanimous Ivy League Player of the Year and one of five finalists for the Becky Hammon Mid-Major Player of the Year Award. She is averaging 17.7 points, 6.1 rebounds, 1.7 assists and 1.5 steals per game while shooting 40.9% from behind the arc. And beyond her on-court production, she is the confident, calm, sometimes goofy leader of a Princeton team that has outscored conference opponents by 27.0 points per game.

Meyers’ star turn is coming later than she originally imagined, after a leave of absence and the COVID-19 pandemic cost her two seasons in five years. But her unorthodox college career has helped her grow into exactly what Princeton needs this season.

“It’s honestly a success story in my mind, seeing the past four years and the first three years being really rough and challenging,” Meyers’ twin sister Olivia told The Next. “… For her senior season to be going so well, for her to be captain, to be leader of the court, to be the playmaker, to be scoring like she used to score in high school, it’s honestly a happy ending, like a fairy tale.”

Growing up in Potomac, Maryland, sports were a constant for Abby, Olivia and their older sister Emily. “We had too much energy for [our parents] to deal with,” Abby told The Next, so Valerie and Steven Meyers put their daughters in recreational leagues and other structured activities.

Abby continued to play multiple sports until college, but her talent for basketball was obvious. “She was always the scorer, the dribbler, the playmaker, the assister,” Olivia said. “She did everything … from elementary school to middle school and into high school. It never changed.”

She was also highly competitive, both with her sisters and with anyone who dared line up across from her. According to Abby, Valerie likes to tell the story of how Abby, still too young for her youth league to allow full-court pressing, “would be waiting like a hungry tiger” at half court on defense. “When the girl would dribble over, I would just attack her,” Abby said.

“She would rip balls out of little kids’ hands in elementary school,” Olivia confirmed.

As Abby developed as a player—growing to 5’11 and rising to 54th in the 2017 HoopGurlz recruiting rankings—she heeded one piece of advice in particular from her dad. “Be the player that the other team’s coach calls timeout for in the first two minutes,” Steven would say. “Hit them with a floater and then hit them with a 3-pointer; be unpredictable.”

She did that well enough to become Walt Whitman High School’s all-time leading scorer and a two-time Montgomery County Player of the Year, and her college suitors included Princeton, Stanford, Northwestern and Michigan.

“Recruiting her was great because I felt like at first she could be a real floor spacer, meaning someone who could really knock down shots. And then also, she was a gym rat,” former Princeton head coach Courtney Banghart told The Next. “Those are the kind of kids you know you can get better.”

Columbia head coach Megan Griffith, who worked under Banghart at Princeton until 2016 and helped recruit Abby, recalled how she was at a Whitman game with Banghart when Whitman head coach Peter Kenah asked her to do the halftime shooting challenge—make a layup, a free throw and a 3-pointer.

“I was like, ‘Are you kidding me?’” Griffith said. “But I was like, ‘If it’s going to help us get this kid, I’ll do whatever it takes.’”

Abby eventually chose Princeton—and, surprisingly, so did Olivia. The twins had expected to attend different colleges, but they were “pretty inseparable,” Olivia said, as they adjusted to college life. By her own admission, Abby got “humbled” as she learned how to be a role player as a freshman. She also learned the hard way what playing defense at Princeton entailed.

“We were doing a drill, and Banghart stops the drill and is like, ‘Abby, did Peter Kenah ever teach you defense?’” Abby said. “And so it’s kind of been … I guess, not [an] insecurity, but you can call it that … Defense has always been my weakness.”

Despite the work-in-progress defense, Abby earned 17.4 minutes per game off the bench as a freshman, averaging 9.4 points, 3.0 rebounds and 1.4 assists. Olivia was a ubiquitous presence on the sidelines and rallied any classmates she could find to join her. And in private, Olivia always provided a listening ear.

“[She] definitely saved me my freshman year,” Abby said, “because I can tell you I vented to her a lot.”

“I tried boosting her confidence, basically, because she went from having all the confidence in the world in high school … to going to Princeton, where she had to prove herself more,” Olivia said. “… So I would just try to remind her of her history, what she has to offer and her talent.”

Meyers started to hit her stride late in her freshman year, scoring in double figures in four straight games and prompting Banghart to call her the team’s most improved player. But she had to take a leave of absence from Princeton the following year for academic reasons. That halted her basketball momentum but forced her to grow off the court as she spent the year interning for Ariel Investments in Chicago and participating in a cultural immersion program in Peru and Bolivia.

“She was pulled away from her team, from the momentum she was gaining from her first year and isolated, separated from everyone, from campus, from the university itself, which was really hard for her in the beginning. And I was worried how she would be able to come back from it,” Olivia said. “But she is so resilient. She is so positive. I remember right after she told the family that she had to take a year off from school, she was writing down a list of things to do for the next year, how to make it worthwhile. She immediately put any negativity behind her.”

Abby weathered challenges during what she calls her “free year,” including a torn meniscus that required surgery. But from her perspective, those challenges were “good ups and downs” that helped her develop her identity outside of sports and become more independent.

“She rose to the occasion and came back a better person,” Olivia said. “… She just came out strong, like a diamond, like nothing can break her down.”

As her sophomore season neared in 2019-20, Abby was still recovering from her knee injury, and she had to adjust to a new head coach, Carla Berube, after Banghart left to coach North Carolina. But Berube had heard plenty about Abby’s potential: From the moment she took the job, other college coaches said to her, “Wow, you’re going to be coaching Abby Meyers!”

“They’d say [current Dallas Wings forward] Bella Alarie, [All-Ivy point guard] Carlie Littlefield, but definitely Abby’s name came up as well—just a great basketball player, great talent, great skill set,” Berube said.

Abby missed Princeton’s first four games that season, but she soon took on a similar role as her freshman year, averaging 6.3 points and 2.7 rebounds in 14.7 minutes per game off the bench. Although her statistics didn’t leap off the page, she again showed flashes of the player she could become toward the end of the season.

But the COVID-19 pandemic doused her hot streak, then canceled what would’ve been her junior season. She was one of only a few Tigers who elected not to take a year off of school to preserve their Ivy League eligibility, wanting to keep progressing toward her degree. “I took a gap year before it was cool,” she joked.

Now a senior in her third season on the court, Abby has had to adjust again—to a younger team that lost Alarie and Littlefield to graduation, and to the fact that Olivia graduated in 2021 and started veterinary school in Canada. But she hasn’t missed a beat, helping Princeton keep its 40-game Ivy League winning streak (including the conference tournament) alive and doubling or tripling nearly all of her per-game statistics from her sophomore year.

“Let me just tell you what, Abby Meyers can freakin’ hoop,” Rhode Island head coach Tammi Reiss told The Next in November, after Meyers scored 22 points and made six 3-pointers against the Rams. “I have the utmost respect for that kid. If she’s not your [Ivy League] Player of the Year—that kid can flat-out ball.”

Abby claimed that the difference in her performance as a senior is simple: She has the green light offensively. According to Berube, Abby’s 3-point shooting, variety of attacking moves and ball-handling all improved during the canceled 2020-21 season, and she has been highly efficient this season scoring from everywhere on the court.

Charts of Abby Meyers’ field goal shooting percentage (left) and field goal attempts (right) by location. Red is good, and Abby has opponents seeing a lot of red this season. (Screenshots from CBB Analytics)

“Every shot that she takes, I’m feeling really good about it. So yeah, I love the confidence that she’s playing with,” Berube said. “… When she’s in the zone, she’s feeling it, Abby Meyers basketball is a joy to watch.”

In December, Abby had a signature moment at then-No. 22 Florida Gulf Coast, hitting a game-winning turnaround jump shot to give Princeton its first win over a ranked team since 1978.

“That’s in her DNA, right?” Berube said postgame. “She wants the ball in big situations, and we’re going to get it to her.”

“Abby always steps up,” added sophomore Kaitlyn Chen. “I mean, she’s ready for these moments. She works so hard for everything she does.”

That includes defensively, as Abby worked to become a two-way player during the 2020-21 year. Only a few teammates were enrolled in classes and on campus last spring, so she got a lot of individual development with the coaches. She also played one-on-one “all the time” with Littlefield, the speedy point guard who is now starting for Banghart at North Carolina as a graduate transfer.

“[Playing with Littlefield] kind of just gave me the confidence to be like, ‘You’re a good defender. … You have the lateral quickness to defend anybody,’” Abby said. “… It’s all a mentality, at the end of the day.”

“She’s definitely gotten a lot better [defensively],” Berube confirmed. “She’s reading the offense well, she’s working well within our defense and communicating well … It’s miles apart from two years ago.”

But that leap isn’t the biggest difference Berube sees between the former role player turned star. “I think the most improvement has just been the day-in and day-out consistency,” Berube said. “… Practices, workouts, any kind of film sessions, she’s just really dialed in.” That has shown on the stat sheet, as Abby has scored in double figures in 27 straight games dating back to 2019-20, breaking Alarie’s school record of 26.

That kind of consistency begets confidence, and Abby is playing with a swagger that is palpable even through the television broadcast. She doesn’t get sped up and is always composed. Griffith said she’s “playing like a senior,” while Banghart called her performance “inspired.” She knows what Berube wants—and knows that she and her teammates can execute it.

“I think everyone kind of needs that edge, that little swag, to give them the confidence to get on the court and ball out,” Abby said. “… I’ve always had that confidence in me. It’s a matter of when that confidence can really shine and be visible, and I think just this year, being named captain, having the trust and confidence for my teammates and coaches and in myself, [it is].”

The captaincy is deeply meaningful to her because it reflects how far she has come.

“Freshman year, even sophomore year, too, people would never have thought I’d be named captain my senior year,” she said. “… I was just a whole different kind of person [and] player.”

It took time for Abby’s teammates to recognize her ability to lead, Olivia said, especially because her “puppy dog energy and enthusiasm” doesn’t fit the mold for a captain. Abby remains goofy and upbeat, able to diffuse tense moments with a smile or a laugh, but she has matured, too. Her leadership also benefited from the canceled season, as she learned from Littlefield, a former captain, and practiced by mentoring then-freshmen Chen and Chet Nweke, who were both on campus last spring.

In her final year at Princeton, Abby has “put all the pieces together,” according to Berube, and is having a brilliant season on the court while being the consummate teammate and leader. Berube said that Abby always checks in with younger players about how they’re doing on and off the court, and she is quick to nominate teammates for Practice Player of the Day honors.

“She’s always thinking about who stood out at practice, why they stood out in practice, what made them impactful … She’s just thinking about others and how to … bring positivity to our program every single day,” Berube said.

“She’s just confident in herself, [and] she wants to instill that confidence and that positivity in other people,” Olivia said.

Abby Meyers handles the ball in a game against Texas on Dec. 22, 2021. (Photo credit: Sideline Photos)

The past five years have taught Abby how to be adaptable and made her not only a complete player, but also a more complete person. During Princeton’s most recent alumni game, Abby said, two former teammates praised her: “Oh my god, you’ve changed so much! You’re nothing like your freshman year self. You’re so mature and successful and impressive!”

And although it has been bumpy at times, Abby is grateful for her unusually “dynamic” road to Senior Day. “It’s not what I expected. But I wouldn’t redo the process because, at the end of the day, we’ve gotten three rings in three seasons,” she said. “So that’s pretty successful, if you ask me.”

Abby will try to win her second Ivy League Tournament title in as many tries this week (the 2019-20 tournament was canceled due to COVID-19) and then lead the Tigers on an NCAA Tournament run. As of March 9, ESPN’s Charlie Creme projects Princeton as a 10-seed playing in Baton Rouge, Louisiana – though there is an outside chance the Tigers could play in College Park, Maryland, just 20 miles from Abby’s hometown.

Wherever the Tigers end up, Abby will bring that swagger, scoring punch and defensive focus—and her team will be a tough out because of it.

“Any given game, we walk on the court and we feel like we’re in a good place to win this game because Abby’s on the court with us,” Berube said. “We’ve got our leader out there, and … we’re in a good spot.”

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, FanSided, Power Plays and Princeton Alumni Weekly.

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