Sports | Sports Columns

ANDREWS: Women's hoops finally competitive

This year’s home slate for women’s basketball ended on Saturday with a loss to Harvard. That result shouldn’t be a surprise—the Lions are 2-55 against Harvard all-time and lost by 35 earlier this year. 

But that result doesn’t tell the whole story. In the first half, Columbia thoroughly outplayed the visiting Crimson and took a three-point lead into halftime. Harvard slowly pulled away down the stretch and did get the win, as expected, but the game was undoubtedly a positive development in a season of small steps.

In Stephanie Glance’s first season as the head coach of the Lions, expectations were very low. The team was, to be blunt, a disaster in the last few years of the Paul Nixon regime. Accordingly, the goals for this year were simple—get back to respectability and find some pieces to build on going forward.

It took most of the season, but Glance has finally molded a consistently competitive team. Columbia has won three Ivy games, including two on the road. More importantly than wins and losses, though, they’ve improved each time they’ve played a team a second time. A 25-point blowout loss to Yale at home became a thriller in New Haven. A tough loss to Brown turned into a big win three weeks later. And the aforementioned demolition by Harvard preceded a consistently competitive game in Levien on Saturday. The team has adapted to Glance’s style and is playing more structured, disciplined basketball.

As far as building toward the future, the Lions found a rising star this year in first-year forward Tori Oliver. On Friday, Oliver almost single-handedly kept Columbia in it, even though Dartmouth dominated much of the game. She poured in 33 points—the first 30-plus point performance for the Lions since rising professional basketball player Judie Lomax, BC ’10, made 30 against Cornell in January 2010. Oliver is a natural scorer, able to drive into the paint and create her own shot. In her first year, she’s now leading the team in scoring while playing solid defense, which suggests Oliver will lead the team going forward.

This season also revealed some other solid pieces for Glance to build around. First-year guard Carolyn Binder is probably the most exciting player I’ve ever seen on the women’s team. She has an exceedingly unorthodox style of playing basketball, her shots taking a ridiculously high, arcing path to the basket—but her offensive aggressiveness is going to be valuable going forward. She already played a big role in the home win over Cornell earlier this year, dropping 16 points to lead the Light Blue to victory, and a similar outburst gave the Lions a win in their season opener against LIU Brooklyn.

I’ve also been impressed with the play of sophomore guard Sara Mead. Mead will be expected to fill senior Taylor Ward’s shoes next year as the starting point guard, and I think she’ll be able to do it. She’s a sharp passer and a tenacious defender. While much of her game doesn’t show up in the stat sheet, she gives the Lions a burst of energy whenever she is on the floor. Alongside seniors Taylor Ward and Courtney Bradford, Mead was voted as one of the team’s leaders for this campaign, foreshadowing a likely leadership role in the coming seasons.

Along with first-year Carolyn Gallagher and juniors Miwa Tachibana and Amara Mbionwu, there’s the core of a solid team being built here. The biggest question mark remaining, though, is Glance’s recruiting. Because of the timing of Paul Nixon’s firing last year, the current first-year class wasn’t brought in by Glance. Will she be able to get talented players to come to Columbia?

That’s an important question, but one for another season, another year. For now, Lions fans should be excited by the trajectory of this team, which is going through the steady process necessary to reach the top of the league.

Peter Andrews is a Columbia College senior majoring in history. He is a member of Spectator’s editorial board, head manager emeritus of the Columbia University Marching Band, and a sports broadcaster for WKCR. For Pete’s Sake runs biweekly.

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