Sports | Basketball

Middle Ground for Women’s Basketball

What a year it has been for Columbia women’s basketball.

It seems hard to believe that this is the first season ever that the team has hit .500, the first year in the history of the program that the team has not had a negative win-to-loss ratio.

This accomplishment says a lot of things, both positive and negative. I want to focus on the positive, because there have been a lot of improvements this season.
To begin, head coach Paul Nixon has been an important investment for the Lions.

There is something to be said for taking a team from 2-12 to 4-10 to 7-7 in the league in three years with two recruiting classes. Between his updates of the coaching staff and the stability that he brought to the team—a team that went through three coaches in the previous two years—he is finally establishing “Columbia basketball.” Last year, I covered the women’s team, and in press conferences he constantly reminded me that he wanted the team to find its identity. Wanting to establish a style of play and a tempo that would be consistent regardless of opponent, Nixon brought in recruits who would fit the bill—recruits like the tiny but incredibly fast Sara Yee, or outstanding post players Chelsea Frazier, Lauren Dwyer, and Meghan Harker. These players gave the team a combination of speed, agility, height, and athleticism that made the team multifaceted. Now the team doesn’t need to rely on one or two good 3-point shooters, since it presents a threat down low, as well as on the perimeter.

Speaking of incredible 3-point shooters, accolades must go to senior Michele Gage. Gage, who missed her entire junior season due to an ACL injury, came back with a vengeance this season. She put up incredible numbers—hitting 61 3-point shots—and became the Columbia record holder for most treys in a single season. Gage ranks in the top five players in the league in scoring—not bad for having missed an entire season of experience (and eligibility).

Despite these individual victories, the fact that the women’s team ended up 7-7 this season is bittersweet. It is satisfying because Columbia was picked in preseason to come in at the bottom of the dogpile once again, and surpassed expectations. But it is disappointing because once the Lions got on a roll, it appeared that they really might be able to take home a piece of the league championship. Unfortunately for the fans and for their record, they were never able to get consistency in their results from week to week. They fought for an important overtime win versus Brown—a team that would go on to be 1-13 in the league—and started a four-game win streak that breathed new life into the supporters of Columbia athletics. The Lions split their games with both Cornell and Dartmouth—two of the three teams to share the league championship.
With many of its opponents, Columbia was able to split the series instead of going 0-2 as they might have in previous years. However, some teams like Yale and Harvard proved to be too much for the Light Blue this season: Yale, a team who was has been perennially counted on for the “sure win,” made an unexpected sweep of the women’s team. Consistency was completely missing from the way the games played out, and because of that, it really seemed like anything could happen.

Inconsistency seems like the name of the game in Lions’ basketball this season. It’s funny that .500 seems like a glass ceiling for the performance of Columbia athletics these days. Take a look at men’s basketball last year: in conference, men’s basketball went 7-7. This season, men’s basketball pulled a repeat, with another .500 record. The team started the season lukewarm, although it had all the ingredients for success with a veteran coach, six veteran players, and some young talent. Then they got hot, hit a four-game win streak, and appeared to be in contention for second or third place in the league. And then, all of a sudden, Dartmouth happened. Dartmouth, tied as the worst team in the league, became Columbian kryptonite and sapped the Lions’ strength.

Does this mean that it’s all a mental game for Columbia? The women may have approached the Yale game as overconfident and unprepared, and the men could have gone in to Dartmouth looking for an easy win.

Now that this season is all wrapped up, it’s too late to tell. But if anything’s clear, it’s that this season’s results show that you can’t go into a game without being prepared to fight for it. It’s mandatory rest time for the players now, but when they get back to practice and into the weight room, it will be time to put the boxing gloves on and break through that glass ceiling.

Lisa Lewis is a Barnard College sophomore.

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