Historic Season Tips Off on Friday at Holy Cross
NEW HAVEN, Conn. — It is a milestone year for the Yale University women's basketball team, and while the Bulldogs will be celebrating the 40th season in their history, they are hoping those celebrations extend well past the end of the 2012-13 regular season.
To do that, Yale will need to finish in either first or second place in the Ivy League standings. A first-place finish will give Yale its first Ivy League championship since 1979 and its first-ever berth in the NCAA Tournament. The Bulldogs can return to the WNIT after making their first-ever appearance in that tournament two years ago with a second-place finish.
With the opening game of this historic season scheduled for Friday night at Holy Cross, the Bulldogs are going into this season aiming to find their way back to postseason play, and they view either tournament as the perfect way to cap off the celebration of the 40th season in their history.
"I think this is a really good team. It wouldn't surprise me if we won the Ivy League, but it wouldn't surprise me if we didn't win the Ivy League, but I think we are capable of it. I think we are going to be a factor in the Ivy League," said Chris Gobrecht, the Joel E. Smilow, Class of 1954, Head Coach of Women's Basketball. "Some things have to break our way. It's like anything else. You have to get a little lucky along the way. A lot will depend on how quickly the freshmen come along."
The Class of 2016 includes guards Whitney Wyckoff and Nyasha Sarju, forward Meredith Boardman and center Emmy Allen. All four freshmen were rated highly by a variety of publications during their senior high school seasons, and all four have already shown a tremendous desire to make an immediate impact to Yale's 40th season celebration plans, and if those plans are to end with a run to the postseason, all four freshmen will be counted on heavily right from the start.
"The reliance on them comes from the fact that they are good," Gobrecht said. "They are all capable of giving us something and we are going to take advantage of that."
However, the four newcomers complement what Gobrecht already has at her disposal. That begins with Allie Messimer. Messimer will enter her senior season as the 35th captain in the 40-year history of the women's basketball program at Yale University, as voted upon by her teammates. The 5-8 guard has played in all of Yale's 85 games in her three-year career with 10 starts. In her three seasons, Messimer has averaged 5.1 points and 1.9 rebounds, but it is her leadership on and off the court that has stood out in her Yale career, and she will be asked to help guide her teammates through this historic season.
Messimer and the rest of the guard corps will be relied on to jumpstart the Bulldogs' attack this season, and that attack begins with a pair of guards in senior Megan Vasquez and sophomore Sarah Halejian.
Vasquez, who became the 17th player in Yale's history to record 1,000 career points, enters the season in 11th place on Yale's all-time scoring list with 1,117 points and needs just 52 points to move into the top 10. She has been Yale's leading scorer in each of her first three seasons and should be the top scoring threat again in her final season with the Bulldogs, but she is not the only scorer in the lineup. Halejian had a fabulous freshman season that ended with her being honored as the Ivy League's Rookie of the Year after averaging 8.1 points, 2.3 rebounds and 1.9 assists in a season that saw her earn a Yale-record six Ivy League Rookie of the Week honors.
In her previous two seasons, junior guard Janna Graf has been another top scoring threat for the Bulldogs. She was second on the team in scoring as a sophomore (10.6 ppg.) and led the team in rebounding (5.8 rpg.). She spent the summer playing on Germany's U-20 National Team and helped lead that squad to a second-place finish at the European Championships. The international experience puts Graf in line for a breakout season, and if that holds true, she could become the 18th player in Yale's history to reach 1,000 career points. She is just 456 points away from joining Vasquez in that club.
Messimer, Sarju, Wyckoff and junior Amanda Tyson will rotate off the bench to keep Yale's attack running at full speed for the game's entire 40 minutes. Tyson could prove to be one of Yale's unsung heroes this season. She showed signs of being able to take over a game during her sophomore season, especially in her breakout game against Brown on Jan. 13 when she recorded career-highs in points (12), rebounds (8) and offensive rebounds (7) to lead the Bulldogs to the big 75-65 win in Providence.
She and junior center Zenab Keita have shown significant improvement during the preseason workouts following a summer of hard work and hope to bring more options to the Bulldogs' rotation. Keita is expected to move into the starting lineup and lead a post attack that also includes sophomore Arrice Bryant, and newcomers Boardman and Allen.
"Zenab and Amanda both went home this summer and really got after it. They worked on their weaknesses. They worked out consistently and worked on their game," Gobrecht said. "Both of them have taken a big jump and they look really good."
However, the biggest key to Yale's 40th season could be the health of the 11 active players on the roster. Before the players reported to the first practice on Oct. 1, Gobrecht knew she would likely be without one key player this season with two more out for an extended period of time. Sophomore guard Hayden Latham will likely miss the entire season after tearing the ACL in her left knee during preseason workouts in September, while junior forward Alexandra Osborn-Jones will miss at least the first few weeks of the season while recovering from surgery on her right ankle that was performed over the summer. Along with the loss of Latham and Osborn-Jones, Yale will also start the season without Bryant, who broke a bone in her hand last month. However, she is expected to return to the lineup after missing a couple of weeks.
"Our numbers are a little concerning," Gobrecht said. "It will be very difficult for us to absorb any more injuries. We just have to pray that we stay healthy."
If the Bulldogs can remain healthy throughout the season, this could be a historic season on multiple levels as the roster has the talent to challenge Princeton, Harvard and the rest of the Ivy League for the championship. The run to the title should be a fun one to watch for all associated with the Bulldogs.
"The interesting thing about this team is, with the improvement of the returning players and the quality of the freshmen, everybody can play. So the team has a really high level of confidence in everybody and it shows in how they play together," Gobrecht said. "From their overall demeanor out on the floor, you can tell that they are not worried about anybody. They know everybody can play. It's been really fun to watch."
Report filed by Jon Erickson Jr., Yale Sports Publicity