By Tris Wykes
Copyright Octopus Athletics 2021
HANOVER – The Dartmouth College women’s basketball team is 1-12 and lost its Ivy League opener to visiting Cornell on Sunday, 46-35. Only a handful of spectators were allowed because of Covid-19 precautions.
The Big Green’s record stands out and causes its remaining supporters an involuntary wince. The program with the most titles (17) since the Ancient Eight began sanctioning its sport in 1976, although none since 2009, is possibly headed for its worst season since those earliest days of varsity women’s competition. There are mitigating factors of late, however.
“The last week has been rough,” said first-year coach Adrienne Shibles, whose team, like its men’s counterpart, has dealt with competitor absences related to the pandemic and canceled a game last week because of them. “We only have 10 healthy players and that inconsistency in personnel has made conditioning difficult.”
Dartmouth never led against Cornell, although it pulled within 35-30 to start the fourth quarter. The Big Red (6-6) received 16 points from Theresa Grace Mbanefo and profited from 19 Big Green turnovers.
“We’re missing a couple of starters and some other players, so today was about making sure we had the legs to go the distance against a tough, physical Cornell team,” Shibles said.
“Some of our more efficient offensive players were in foul trouble, so we were looking for bodies. I was proud of the way we had players come off the bench and give us minutes.”
Junior forward Emma Koch led the hosts, who were missing third- and fourth-leading scorers Mekkena Boyd and Grace Niekelski, with seven points. Koch missed her freshman season because of injury and, like all Ivy League players, last winter’s slate because of Covid. Boyd is a sophomore and Niekelski a freshman, so like Koch, they’re experiencing their first college campaign.
Australian guard Allie Harland, a junior who entered the day averaging 1.8 points per game, dropped in six Sunday. Second-leading scorer Carrington Washburn, a sophomore, managed only three points.
Dartmouth’s roster includes only two seniors, guards Jamena Abejon and Katie Douglas, who began the season with a combined 22 starts. Twenty-one of them belonged to Douglas, who’s averaged roughly 5.5 points per game in college.
“We’re having a hard time scoring the basketball for certain,” said Shibles, whose team made only 3 of 10 foul shots Sunday. “We’re missing easy shots and free throws and that really hurt us. If we could have gone ahead, that would have given our young team confidence.”
Shibles said her players have bought in to her defensive concepts and are executing them fairly well, but noted that Cornell’s 42-33 rebounding edge was significant during a close game. The Big Green lacks offensive conviction and its attack is tilted sharply towards outside shooting, unsurprising for a team with only three players listed at more than 6 feet.
The tallest Greenie, 6-4 freshman center Doreen Ariik, is rail thin and all sharp angles. The Kenyan played one high school season before losing the chance for a second while at Massachusetts prep school Northfield Mount Hermon last winter. Ariik had four points, two rebounds and two turnovers and made 2 of 8 field-goal attempts during 22 minutes against the Big Red.
“Doreen had some good looks that didn’t fall, but she has so much potential and a great attitude,” Shibles said. “She’s hard on herself about misses and turnovers and we have to make sure that doesn’t spiral. But she’s a freshman and that’s common.”
Shibles was hired in May from Maine’s Bowdoin College, where she was honored as NCAA Division III coach of the year following the 2018-19 season. Her mandate is to resurrect a Dartmouth program never driven out of the ditch by predecessor Belle Koclanes.
During seven seasons, Koclanes went 34-64 in league play and her first Big Green squad won only two Ivy League games. It at least triumphed five times overall, during an era before the program’s nonleague degree of difficulty was drastically reduced. Gone are the days when Dartmouth faced the likes of Syracuse, Colorado, Louisville, Old Dominion, Marquette, Cal and Boston College before Ivy games commenced.
The Big Green’s long-running holiday tournament, which annually brought solid foes such as Villanova, Georgetown, Kansas State and Delaware with transcendent talent Elena Delle Donne, ended after Koclanes’ first season. This year’s schedule featured nonleague opponents such as Merrimack, Monmouth, Texas-San Antonio and Manhattan and still… 1-12.
“We need to get back into the gym and get back to our regular feel of practice,” said Shibles, who’s had director of basketball operations Lydia Caputi, a 2018 Bowdoin graduate and a three-year starter, suit up for recent team workouts. “What we’ve been able to do lately is based on test results, that’s all I’ll say.
“I didn’t anticipate we’d be back here, which was probably shortsighted,” Shibles said of having to endure another rise in Covid cases. “It’s heartbreaking to see the student-athletes struggle and be isolated (across campus). It affects their mental health and their consistency basketball-wise.
“There a lot of anxiety about ‘Am I going to get (the virus)?’ and what’s going to happen next. It’s taking a real toll on them.”
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