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Bulldogs Pushing to Continue Climb Up Ivy Ranks

The Yale women's basketball huddle. (photo by Sam Rubin '95, Yale Sports Publicity)
The Yale women's basketball huddle. (photo by Sam Rubin '95, Yale Sports Publicity)

Yale Women's Basketball Team Set To Tip Off 2011-12 Season Friday



NEW HAVEN, Conn. — The Yale University women's basketball team is still riding high off of last season's late charge that ended with the program's first-ever bid in the Women's National Invitational Tournament (WNIT), the team's first trip to the postseason since 1979.

However, one taste of postseason play has the Bulldogs wanting more, and with nearly all of the team returning from last year's magical run, the feeling for the players and coaches as they enter the 2011-12 season is that more is not only possible, but it's there for the taking if they can recapture just a little of the magic that they displayed a year ago.

"The expectation that we have is to challenge for the Ivy League championship," said Chris Gobrecht, the Joel E. Smilow, Class of 1954, Head Coach of Women's Basketball. "We actually have more depth this year than we did a year ago. That will be a huge advantage for us this year. We are also faster, more athletic, and more skilled across the board."

Even though the Bulldogs have not won an Ivy League championship since 1979, no one would blame this year's squad for believing that the Ivy crown has its first real chance of returning to New Haven in 33 years. Minus two seniors, and just one starter, this is the same group that swept the season series from Harvard for the first time since the 1993-94 season and matched a program-best 10-4 record in Ivy play last season, a season in which this group of players also earned a stunning 91-85 victory over national power Florida State for the program's first-ever win over a nationally ranked opponent.

The Bulldogs have plenty of goals in 2011-12, but none are higher than the Ivy League championship. However, collecting a few of the other ones along the way would make a dream season even sweeter. High on that list are two individual milestones that are reachable this season. Gobrecht is just 13 wins away from 500 career coaching victories. Junior guard Megan Vasquez is just 312 points away from 1,000 career points. If the Bulldogs plan on challenging for the Ivy League title, both of those milestones will likely be reached on the path to the championship.

Like last year, the road to an Ivy League championship could prove to be a bumpy one early on, but the Bulldogs are hoping to avoid some of those same bumps that led to a seven-game losing streak early in the season and a 4-10 non-league record.

The Bulldogs have four starters and nine players overall returning from last year's squad, and there is also an influx of new talent in three stellar freshmen that are expected to provide significant contributions on the path to the championship.

Led by the team's lone senior, captain Michelle Cashen, the Bulldogs have plenty of talent and plenty of potential. If the players can deliver on that promise, the 2011-12 season could be even more memorable than last season.

"We are all thinking that we can do what we did last year, if not better," Cashen said. "We are young, but we are very talented. We brought in some really good players. We are all very positive about the outlook for this season."

Yale's 39th season begins Friday, Nov. 11, at home against Holy Cross. The game and the new season tip off at 7 p.m. in the friendly confines of John J. Lee Amphitheater.

Here is a breakdown of the 2011-12 Bulldogs:


The Schedule

In her time as the head coach at Yale, and for much of her 31 seasons as a college head coach, Gobrecht has never shied away from tough competition. Her goal each season is to use the non-league portion of the schedule to prepare her players for the rigors of Ivy League play.

The non-league schedule in 2011-12 will do more than challenge the Bulldogs. It is a slate of games that will push the players to their limits. More than any of the six previous seasons in Gobrecht's tenure at Yale, the non-league schedule this season promises to have the Bulldogs ready to take on all comers, not only their Ivy League opponents, but the potential postseason opponents as well.

The non-league schedule is Yale's toughest during Gobrecht's tenure. It features four teams that received votes in the USA Today/ESPN Coaches' Preseason Poll, including Baylor. Yale will meet the Bears on Nov. 22 in Waco, Texas, for what will likely be the Bulldogs' first-ever game against the nation's No. 1 team.

The Bulldogs are also slated to meet Florida State again. The Seminoles were ranked No. 13 in the coaches' preseason poll and are sure to be ready for everything the Bulldogs will bring to that Dec. 28 rematch in Tallahassee, Fla. Yale will also meet Marist and Houston during the non-league portion of the schedule, both of which didn't make the Top 25 but received votes in the poll.

"This schedule makes you go into the Ivy League season thinking that if we can play teams of this caliber, and even beat some of them, then why couldn't we beat the teams in the Ivy League season," Cashen said. "Especially since we're playing Baylor and Florida State and Houston, it makes you think you can play with anybody."

Also among the 14 non-league games are matchups against Boston University, Fairleigh Dickinson and Delaware, all of which defeated the Bulldogs during last season's seven-game losing streak.

The Bulldogs will visit Texas during the Thanksgiving holiday week, beginning with the highly anticipated matchup with No. 1 Baylor and ending with the David Jones Classic at the University of Houston. The holiday tournament will also see the Bulldogs take on Texas-Pan American.

Yale will see rematches with Quinnipiac, Army, Holy Cross, and Bucknell, as well as new opponents in St. Francis (N.Y.) and Baruch.

"The non-league schedule is all about getting ready for the Ivy League season. There is nothing more important than that," Gobrecht said. "There are some games on the non-league schedule that would be really big for us to win. Also, where we failed last year is we need to win the games that we should win too."


The Captain

Senior forward Michelle Cashen takes over for Yoyo Greenfield '11 as Yale's captain this season and she is already proving to be a tremendous asset in the leadership role on the squad.

Cashen was fourth on the team last season in scoring (8.2 ppg.), and she was the team's leader in rebounds per game with 6.6 rpg. She also showed a knack for putting her teammates in position to score, racking up 81 assists. Her 3.0 assists per game ranked sixth in the Ivy League last season and second in the league ranks among post players, behind only teammate Mady Gobrecht (3.21 apg.).

On and off the court, Cashen has proven her ability to lead her teammates, and she will be asked to carry the torch on and off the court throughout the season if the Bulldogs are to challenge for the Ivy crown.

"She has really done a good job so far of stepping into that role," Gobrecht said. "Michelle has sort of spent her whole career at Yale flying under the radar. Now she has to be very much front and center for the program. I think she is handling it great. What I want to be sure of is that her game takes the same strides that her leadership has. If she can do that, she will have a great year."


The Backcourt

The Bulldogs' success in 2011-12 rests with the play of their guards, and none are more critical to the success of the team this season than junior Megan Vasquez.

Vasquez led the team in scoring for the second straight season last year and her 13.6 points per game ranked third among Ivy League leaders. Her performance in 2010-11 earned her a spot on the All-Ivy League First Team, making her just the third Yale player during Gobrecht's tenure to earn First Team honors.

With her ability to score, the Bulldogs rely on Vasquez to carry much of the offensive load. She has scored 688 points to date and is just 312 points away from becoming the 17th player in Yale's history to reach 1,000 career points. It is a milestone that is reachable this season, and as much as she is relied on to put points on the board, she is likely to reach that at some point during the Ivy League portion of the season.

Also leading the guard corps this season is junior Aarica West. After sitting all but one game as a freshman due to injury, West returned to the court with a vengeance last season to lead the team in assists (103). She was second in the Ivy League in total assists and assists per game (3.55).

One of the key features of the Bulldogs' backcourt this season is its depth. Behind Vasquez and West are four other guards that are more than capable of making an impact on the court. Junior Allie Messimer started seven games last season and is an outside threat, and sophomore Amanda Tyson will come off the bench to play the point.

A pair of freshmen is also expected to make key contributions this season. Hayden Latham has already made her mark in practice and could enter the starting lineup this season. Latham's length also makes her a candidate to play on the wing or even in the post. Sarah Halejian is another reserve guard who is capable of playing the point and is also an outside threat. There are high expectations for both players and both have shown in preseason practice that they are more than capable of answering the call.

"We knew this was a good freshman class," Gobrecht said. "I believe that they are going to keep getting better and better. All three are going to be major contributors to the program this season, there's no question. We are excited just to get going, to give them the experience. Hayden is probably the most advanced in terms of her approach to the game. She plays older than she is. I love her basketball sense and her ability to size up the game."


The Frontcourt

Cashen and Janna Graf are the lone returning starters in the post after the graduation of fellow forward Mady Gobrecht. However, the Bulldogs' other three post players have shown early on that they are ready to step up and provide clutch contributions to the performance on the court this season.

Graf is a small forward who proved more than capable of battling under the basket for rebounds. She was third on the team in scoring (9.5 ppg.) and rebounding (4.2 rpg.). She was especially capable on the offensive glass, where she collected 41 of her 110 rebounds. Her performance last season earned her a unanimous selection to the All-Ivy League Rookie Team.

Junior Alicia Seelaus and sophomores Alexandra Osborn-Jones and Zenab Keita will be asked to come off the bench this season, as will freshman center Arrice Bryant.

If there is one thing that the Bulldogs are looking for in 2011-12, it is help in the post in the battle for clutch rebounds, especially after the graduation loss of Gobrecht, who was seventh in the Ivy League with 6.3 rebounds per game and sixth in total rebounds (183). The post quartet of Seelaus, Keita, Osborn-Jones and Bryant will be asked to recover most of what was lost when Gobrecht collected her Yale diploma.

"Every team has weaknesses," Gobrecht said. "We really have to address them if we're going to survive our weaknesses. All you ever try to do is hang in there with them and don't have them be so bad that they offset your strengths. We know we have great strengths, but we have to somehow mitigate some of the issues that are going to bite us if we don't take care of them. Our size and our rebounding and our ability to match up defensively are some of the issues that we need to take care of this season."

Report filed by Jon Erickson Jr., Yale Sports Publicity