Yale's Seventh-Year Coach Discusses Bulldogs' Quest for Ivy League Crown
NEW HAVEN, Conn. — With the Yale University women's basketball team set to tip off Ivy League play on Friday at Brown at 7 p.m., Chris Gobrecht, the Joel E. Smilow, Class of 1954 Head Coach of Women's Basketball, took part in the Ivy League's midseason media teleconference with the other coaches in the league to preview the remaining 14 games on the 2011-12 schedule against the seven other teams in the Ivy League.
Gobrecht, who owns the most career victories of the eight Ivy League coaches, discussed her team's progress through the non-league portion of the schedule, Yale's push to win its first Ivy League title since the 1979 season, and the tough road ahead against the strong competition awaiting the Bulldogs against Ivy League opponents.
"We have had some good times in the preseason, as has everybody in the Ivy League. I have been really impressed with how the league has performed and I am happy that we are kind of holding up our end of things too. Every time you arrange your preseason, you try to get a certain amount of games that you are pretty sure that you're going to win and then you always want to put in those games that you're likely to lose and then you have a good percentage of them that are what you call 50-50 games. When you go through a preseason, you would like to win the ones that you are supposed to win and win more than your share of the 50-50s and perhaps get the upset. The only thing that we didn't do is get the upset this preseason. We did probably win the ones that we were supposed to and I think we got more than our share of the 50-50 games. But those upsets would have had to have happened at Baylor, at Delaware and at Florida State. That probably wasn't going to happen. We had a good time though and I think the team will always be able to take with them that in 2011 they played against the two best players in collegiate women's basketball — that being Brittney Griner and Elena Delle Donne— and that is going to be a thrill that they carry with them a long time I think.
On starting the Ivy League season with five of the first six games on the road:
"No question I am concerned about it. I often talk about when I am out representing the league, and I have the privilege of representing the Ivy League on the Division I Advisory Committee, and I try to get people to understand how tough you have to be to compete in the Ivy League. We play these back-to-back games. We have these road trips where we seem to be on buses endlessly. So to do it five out of your first six, Wow! We've just got to be really, really tough. We can't have excuses and we can't be babies about it. We've just got to buckle down and get it done and do the best we can. The good news is we get to play at home at the end. I think what's hard when you open up like that with so many on the road like that is you don't want to be out of it before you have gotten well into the league. You want to still be in the race at the end. That's going to be our challenge is to be successful enough that we can still be in the hunt for the Ivy League championship when we come out of that stretch where we play five of six on the road. That's going to be a huge challenge. I think the teams that finished in the bottom half of the league last year are so much better. That is what will make this tough. Nobody lost anybody except for Columbia. Everybody has gotten better. You have always had to grind through how hard it was to go out and play no matter who it was and now everybody is better. We're in for it. We know it.
On Brown, Yale's first Ivy League opponent
"They are just more experienced. I thought they were a very good team last year and I think they proved it when we had a really tough time with them both times. They were able to get the upset win over Harvard. I think Brown is just a good team and their preseason record shows it. They are efficient. They are deceptive and effective. That is what you have to be prepared for. You have to realize that those guys are going to do really good things. They know who they are. They play great together. They play hard and real smart. They are tough and to open on the road against them will be hard and we know it. I laugh all the time with James Jones, our men's coach, and we say, "when you coach at Yale, it's never easy." I think it is like that for all of us in the Ivy League. There is just never an easy game and you accept that, but that is part of what makes it fun though."
On how the Bulldogs are playing at this point in the season:
"I thought we did just fine in the preseason. I though we performed up to expectations and maybe even a little bit better considering how young we are. We have three freshmen who play a lot. We are very much a sophomore-freshmen dominated team. We have only one senior in Michelle Cashen. She has done a real good job for us but she is it. She is all we have in our senior class. I was just fine with how the preseason went. We are concerned. Hayden has been out for the last four games. There was a player in the Florida State game who took a really cheap shot at her. We're not happy about it. She has been out since that game. At this point, we are still evaluating and we're not sure when we will have her back. I think it is very much a day-by-day thing as concussions are. She is a very talented player. She is an impact kind of freshman, so we are anxious to get her back. Everybody else is in pretty good shape.
On how good Princeton looks:
"I have only been in the Ivy League, this is starting my seventh year. I don't have the sense of the history as much as Chris at Dartmouth, Kathy at Harvard or Jean at Brown do. They have been in the league a really long time. I think there have been some dominant, great Ivy League teams. I can remember when I first got in the league how impressed I was with that Dartmouth team that almost beat Rutgers. This Princeton team is just at a different level. Because I sit on the committee and I have a chance to sell them, it's an easy sell because I really do think they are that good. It is the talent that they have combined with how hard they play and their toughness. You see them as being this team that has all these people who can score the ball and these star-power-type players, but I think what makes them good is that defense. They play very good defense and they take charges and they sell charges. They are very good at being in the right place. They value every possession. They don't beat themselves. They hit open shots. They do all the things that great teams do. This is the third year that they have been the dominant power in the league, and because they have had that good young class that is maturing into being seniors and I think they are going to keep going because they have recruited very well. I think a lot of us in this league have recruited very well. We're excited about the class that we have coming in next year, and Harvard is really excited about the players they've got. I think everybody, but that's because the league is getting better. Princeton can play with anybody in the country. I think maybe Baylor is really good. They're unbelievable. I'm sure Baylor and UConn, that's a different category, but they can play with anybody else. They have the talent. They have the game plan. When you can play that well together and have that much ability at every position, you're going to be good. They're chemistry is great. Even though I want to beat them badly, and there is no love lost between Princeton and Yale, necessarily, I still point Princeton out often to my players as, "if we want to catch these guys, you have to understand this is what they do and this is what we have to do." We recognize that they deserve to be where they are.
On the Ivy League's RPI being at No. 11 of 33 conferences (according to RPIRatings.com):
"I think the fact that the league overall has performed so well will help Princeton just to sort of legitimize if they are able to have the same type of success within the conference (this year). I think it is going to be more legitimate than ever because the league is so much stronger. I think Harvard getting a big win over St. John's and any time one of the Ivy League teams is able to get a big upset, people have to pay attention to that. You've got to look at the RPI and how impressive that is. I think people are starting to (take notice), at least on the East Coast. I coached a long time in the west coast and we really were kind of clueless about what goes on in the East Coast, and I think everybody on the East Coast is a little clueless about what goes on in the West Coast. But I think on the East Coast everybody knows that Princeton is the real deal. We will just keep pushing. I thought they got a really strong seed (#12) last year. We'll see if they can do even better this year. Right now, we're all trying to win the Ivy League so nobody is going to give it to them.
On the play of Megan Vasquez this season:
"Megan gets better every year. The thing about her game is she's got a big-time body. A lot of times in the Ivy League, we have to give up inches and pounds. She is strong. She has got great size for a guard. She has the ability to finish and make shots because of her strength combined with her skill. I think our guard play this year is better than it was a year ago. When and if we get Hayden back, that will boost us up even more. That is part of the reason why we are able to play a faster game because our guard play is better. We are not quite as solid in the post as we were in losing Mady Gobrecht from last year, but we are better at guard. Everybody will tell you that it is a guard's game. So I think we are little better than we were a year ago and Megan is a big part of that with her improvement and what a force she is in the back court.
Report filed by Jon Erickson Jr., Yale Sports Publicity