Happy Holidays from Women's Basketball!
By: Manager Jordyn Seni '14
To merely watch the Princeton women's basketball team on the court or follow its success here on GoPrincetonTigers.com is to see only one facet of what makes this program such a positive element of the Princeton Athletics Department and University community at-large. If you've never interacted with any members of the Princeton women's basketball team or staff, then you may not know that this program breeds a level of fun that is contagious to those around them. Simply reading that may come off as a generic statement, but it's hard to argue when you've got a group of players who rallied full-force behind Annie Tarakchian '16 as she participated in a 200-person game of Assassins sponsored by her residential college and a staff who willingly participated in an impromptu PIG tournament while on the team's winter trip to Illinois.
Before departing for Illinois on Monday, the team was able to enjoy each other's company by partaking in a Secret Snowflake gift exchange spearheaded by Blake Dietrick '15. Everyone was directed to find a gift that poked fun at a particular team member's eccentricities in hopes that they would garner laughs from the entire group when opened. While that was certainly the case, the gift exchange also demonstrated how much this team genuinely cares to be more than just teammates, but friends. They are bonded not just by the fact that they are a team handpicked by the coaching staff, but also by their appreciation for what each individual player adds to the group dynamic off the court.
Unlike any other trip this year, the team had to leave New Jersey without one of the Tigers, Nicole Hung '14, who suffered an injury in a November game against UCLA and underwent knee surgery on the day of the team's travel to Illinois. While waiting in the Newark Airport, where players split up to complete schoolwork, play "name that R&B song", test out quirky hairstyles on teammates or hang out, all were eventually comforted with highly amusing e-mails and text messages from Nicole assuring them that the surgery went well. The travel day itself was an exhausting one, mostly because it included a full practice and lifting session in the morning followed by a flight to Detroit, Mich. with a layover before flying on to Peoria, Ill., the hometown of Mariah Smith '15. Upon arriving, the team was met by Tony, the do-it-all bus driver who proved to be such a valuable addition to the travel party. In addition to driving the team around Illinois, Tony went out of his way to rebound for players, join in on grocery expeditions for team snacks and cheer loudly for the team in their two games.
On the first full day in Illinois, the team woke up early for its practice at Illinois State University in Normal. Practice went on as usual with the team working hard on their offensive and defensive sets before heading back to the hotel to prepare for a dinner at Mariah's home. There, the team was able to share in the company of Mariah's family and friends while also enjoying great food and entertainment. What's special about the way this program schedules games is that it allows for the team to play in front of a player's home crowd at least once during their college career. For Mariah, this meant playing two games in Illinois - one against Illinois State University and another against DePaul University in Chicago. It also provides the team with a chance to get to know where their teammates come from and interact with their teammate's family and friends in a more intimate, non-basketball environment.
After returning from Mariah's home, the idea was born to hold a PIG tournament among the staff over the remainder of the Illinois trip. The tournament consequently spawned the idea for a season-long PIG league that will consist of pool play during the Ivy season. Results of pool play will eventually determine seeding for a final bracket to parallel March Madness in the spring. Manager Amanda Roman '13 is the league commissioner and a PIG Players' Association has been set up to ensure that players are treated well under Roman's expected dictatorial run as commissioner. The PIG tournament may have been created as a lighthearted way to pass the time before and after practices in Illinois, but the games have gotten quite competitive. In the tournament's finals, which will be held at Jadwin Gym when the team returns, Coach Banghart will square off against Coach Griffith in a matchup you might even consider tantamount in importance to the Notre Dame vs. Alabama championship game. To see the full trial tournament bracket, click the following link: http://images.challonge.com/princetonwbb.png.
On Wednesday, the team watched film and arrived for a shoot around at Redbird Arena to prepare for the evening game. After entering the half with a 32-32 tie, the Tigers pulled away from the Redbirds with an impressive 67-50 win. Despite playing far away from Jadwin Gym, the team received overwhelming support from family and friends who traveled to catch the Tigers in action in Normal. On the two-hour drive to Chicago, Director of Basketball Operations Tyler Cordell surprised the travel party with the movie "Pitch Perfect" - a team favorite that follows an all-female a capella group called the Bellas in its quest to win a national collegiate a capella competition. During and after the movie, groups of players could be found randomly breaking out into song, showing their appreciation for the balance of both seriousness and hilarity found in the movie that also resonates with this Princeton team. While the team is always serious when basketball is concerned, outside of it, they have a remarkable way of maintaining an easygoing and fun-loving atmosphere that spreads to those around them.
The following day started early, especially for Coach Griffith who flew all the way to Arizona to get some recruiting in before the holiday. After a practice at DePaul and some film, the team had some free time to spend in Chicago before heading to an appetizing dinner at the home of former Tiger player Mary Newburn '97. While a couple of seniors sequestered themselves in their respective rooms to work on their theses, most of the other players either hibernated away from the Chicago wind or explored the area surrounding the downtown hotel. This was especially great for players to have downtime with some of their closest friends while coaches were out recruiting and preparing for the DePaul game.
Getting ready for Friday's game at DePaul included a shoot around at McGrath-Phillips Arena and more film. Supported by a large fan base that included many Chicago-area students and alums, the game was fast-paced, high scoring and competitive for 40 minutes - proving to the team that great strides had been made over the course of the season to play with toughness. Although it resulted in an 86-75 loss, it was a learning experience that left the team hungry to play at an even higher level after the holiday break when it takes on Drexel University in its last home game of the calendar year at Jadwin Gym on December 31st at 2 p.m. ET.
Now with all of the Tigers at their homes in different areas of the country, there is some emptiness left that is only assuaged with the knowledge that they will be reunited on December 26th. This team does not go long without communicating with each other, either on-or-off the court, so while this break is a welcome one for the team, it is also one that challenges the bonds the players' established the day basketball workouts began in September. In the meantime, the team at least has the festive "All I Want for Christmas is You" sing-a-long video featuring all five freshman as some comfort to prevent early-onset separation anxiety (see video above).
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, the holidays provide the team with time to consider the great value of the relationships they establish with those within the University and athletic community. That said, it is an appropriate time to thank all of those who make this program better, but who don't always get the credit they deserve: the Jadwin facilities and maintenance staff, who ensure that the team's facilities are in tip-top shape; the Athletic Department staff, who support and promote the program in a multitude of ways; the athletic trainers, especially Tiger, who tend to players' injuries and keep the team healthy; the Friends of Princeton Basketball group, who financially assists the Princeton program; and the fans who cheer on the Tigers at their games. To those who follow the Princeton women's basketball program and contribute to the team's success, have a wonderful and safe holiday season! Go Tigers!