April 23, 2023
Five numbers to know about Ivy League women’s basketball this offseason
Exploring the Ivy pipeline to Power 6 programs, attendance growth and more
The 2022-23 season finished with a bang for Ivy League women’s basketball, as four teams qualified for national postseason tournaments and three made memorable runs. Princeton advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament for the second straight year, Columbia made the WNIT final, and Harvard made the WNIT quarterfinals before losing to Columbia.
During the offseason, it’s natural to daydream about what lies ahead for the Ancient Eight in 2023-24. “I hope it’s one of our best [seasons] ever,” Columbia head coach Megan Griffith told reporters on April 5, speaking about the entire conference.
To fuel your offseason projections and what-ifs, here are five data points that show where Ivy League women’s basketball went last season and where it could be going in 2023-24.
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Nine of 14 All-Ivy League players will return
Although First Team All-Ivy League selections Kayla Padilla (Penn) and Kaitlyn Davis (Columbia) are graduating, the league is in good hands for 2023-24 with the rest of the First Team and nine of 14 total All-Ivy selections returning. Princeton’s Kaitlyn Chen, the Ivy League Player of the Year, headlines the list of returners, and Harvard (three) and Columbia (two) each have multiple honorees returning.
Most significantly, every major award winner returns in 2023-24: Chen will be a senior, as will her teammate Ellie Mitchell, last season’s Ivy League Co-Defensive Player of the Year. Yale has the other Co-Defensive Player of the Year in rising junior Nyla McGill, and Princeton’s Madison St. Rose also returns as the reigning Rookie of the Year. Meanwhile, Ivy League Coach of the Year Megan Griffith recently signed a five-year contract extension to remain at Columbia.
Fourteen graduate transfers are leaving
Five seniors were All-Ivy selections last season, and three of them are graduating with a year of eligibility left: Columbia’s Davis and Jaida Patrick and Penn’s Padilla. Ivy League rules generally prohibit graduate students from competing in varsity sports, so those players will use their remaining eligibility outside the conference as graduate transfers. Patrick is headed to Miami, and Davis and Padilla have yet to announce their destinations but have drawn Power 6 interest.
Overall, 14 Ivy League players have entered the transfer portal to play next season as graduate students, as of April 21. Here is the full list of players, with destinations noted if known:
|Ania McNicholas||Cornell||Cal Poly|
|Shannon Mulroy||Cornell||Seton Hall|
Assuming all 14 players find landing spots to play in 2023-24, this will be the largest number of grad transfers that the conference has had in the past five offseasons, narrowly topping the 12 it had two years ago.
This surge in graduate transfers is largely attributable to the COVID-19 pandemic. Amid uncertainty about whether college sports would be played in 2020-21, some players decided to take the academic year off from school to preserve their Ivy League eligibility. Other players continued their academics uninterrupted. When the Ivy League announced in November 2020 that no winter sports would be played, it meant that any student-athlete who had stayed in school would graduate with eligibility remaining.
In contrast, before the pandemic, graduate transfers were generally limited to players who had missed an entire season due to injury or had sat out a year after transferring into the Ivy League, per NCAA rules at the time.
Notably, 41% of the Ivy League’s graduate transfers since the 2018-19 season — 12 out of 29 — have ended up at Power 6 programs, counting only those in the current cycle who have committed to a school. This offseason, Patrick, Yale’s Camilla Emsbo and Cornell’s Shannon Mulroy have all committed to Power 6 programs. Emsbo, a 2021-22 First Team All-Ivy League forward, is headed to Duke, while Mulroy is a gritty guard who will play for Seton Hall in her home state of New Jersey.
The ACC has signed the most Ivy League grad transfers since 2018-19 with five, followed by the Big Ten with three. And every Ivy League program has sent at least one player to a Power 6 program in that span, led by Princeton with three.
In addition, two underclassmen have entered the transfer portal in Brown freshman Page Greenburg and Dartmouth sophomore Doreen Ariik. They are among just six Ivy League players over the last five offseasons who have entered the portal without being in line to graduate.
Three of eight head coaches will be in their first two seasons
On April 17, Dartmouth announced that head coach Adrienne Shibles had resigned after just two seasons with the Big Green. She had an overall record of 5-49 in that span, including 2-26 in the Ivy League, and was winless in conference play last season.
Whoever replaces Shibles will become the third new head coach leaguewide in the last two offseasons, as Harvard’s Carrie Moore and Yale’s Dalila Eshe both just finished their first seasons. Overall, the league’s head coaches are relatively new, as only three have completed more than four seasons with their current programs.
|School||Head Coach||First Season||Years in Current Role|
To Griffith, who played at Columbia and was an assistant at Princeton under Courtney Banghart before taking over at her alma mater in 2016, the turnover among head coaches is healthy for the league.
“[Banghart] sustained winning for a long period of time and created and lifted the rest of the league up,” Griffith said on April 5. “And that’s where now you have these really hungry younger coaches … doing the same thing, and that’s what we needed. We needed a rejuvenation … to drive us into that stratosphere of not just one program winning but multiple programs winning.”
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Hundreds of fans returned to Ivy gyms in 2022-23
In the four seasons from 2016-20, the eight Ivy women’s basketball programs drew an average of 729 fans per home game, according to NCAA records. Penn led the way with 1,293 fans per game, followed by Princeton (864) and Columbia (705).
After the 2020-21 season was canceled due to COVID-19, fans were slow to return in 2021-22. The average attendance fell by 51%, to 359, perhaps in part due to continued social distancing protocols or other protective measures at some arenas. But Columbia, in the midst of one of the best seasons in program history, bucked the trend. It drew a league-high 712 fans per home game to match its pre-pandemic average.
Last season, attendance rebounded to pre-pandemic levels, with an average of 713 fans per game across the eight schools. Regular-season co-champions Columbia (1,308) and Princeton (1,129) both averaged over 1,000 fans, while Harvard drew nearly 800 to rank third.
“I remember trying to recruit people to come to the gym, come to our games, and try to fill the gym up,” Columbia senior guard/forward Lilian Kennedy told reporters on March 4. “It’s insane. It is insane the difference that has been since my freshman year to now we’re selling out games. … We have the best fans in the Ivy League, and it shows every night.”
One WNBA Draft pick
On April 10, Princeton alum Abby Meyers was selected in the first round of the WNBA Draft after playing one season as a graduate transfer at Maryland. The Dallas Wings selected Meyers 11th overall, making her just the fifth former Ivy Leaguer all-time to be drafted and the third-ever first-round pick.
|Player||Year Drafted||Round||Pick (Overall)||WNBA Team||College|
|Allison Feaster||1998||1||5||Los Angeles Sparks||Harvard|
|Temi Fagbenle||2016||3||35||Minnesota Lynx||Harvard*|
|Leslie Robinson||2018||3||34||New York Liberty||Princeton|
|Bella Alarie||2020||1||5||Dallas Wings||Princeton|
|Abby Meyers||2023||1||11||Dallas Wings||Princeton*|
Last season at Maryland, Meyers, a 6’ guard, averaged 14.3 points, 5.1 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 1.8 steals per game while shooting 38.8% from 3-point range. Her production was similar to — and even better than, in some areas — that of her final season at Princeton, and she was projected as a second-round pick entering the draft.
“The thing that really pushed her forward for us was the interview process,” Dallas president and CEO Greg Bibb told reporters on draft night. “Probably in all of the years, of all of the interviews I’ve done … it’s definitely, if not the best ever, one of the top two or three I’ve ever had. I mean, just blew our collective socks off … And that really helped crystallize her place for us in that first round.”
If Meyers appears in a WNBA game this season, it will be the eighth straight season that at least one Ivy League alumna has done so. That streak includes appearances by Fagbenle (2017-19) and Alarie (2020-21) as well as by undrafted players Blake Dietrick (2016, 2018-21) and Katie Benzan (2022).
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 and Power Plays.
Outstanding piece. I say this as an alumnus of a famous, overrated Ivy League school in New Haven (where I later taught) which not only had no women’s basketball when I was there but wouldn’t admit women as undergraduate students for 268 years (1701 to 1969). It’s great to see Ivy League women’s basketball becoming increasingly successful.