Rebuilding Big Green Taking Its Share of Lumps
Dartmouth College forward Milica Toskovic dribbles past 6-foot-9 Albany center Megan Craig on Wednesday during the Great Danes' 81-59 victory at Leede Arena. The Big Green fell to 1-5 while Albany improved to 7-0. Valley News - Tris Wykes Purchase photo reprints »
Dartmouth College women's basketball coach Belle Koclanes signals to her players Wednesday during the Big Green's 81-59 loss to visiting Albany. Director of basketball operations Michael Motta looks on. Valley News - Tris Wykes Purchase photo reprints »
Hanover — Reality is setting in for the Dartmouth College women’s basketball team. Gone is the euphoria of the squad’s lone victory, a four-point triumph over Vermont nearly a month ago.
Now, after four consecutive losses by an average of 24 points, the Big Green is showing just why rookie coach Belle Koclanes is here: to rebuild a storied program that bottomed out last winter with a second consecutive 6-22 record.
Wednesday, undefeated Albany (7-0) became the latest foe to expose Dartmouth’s lack of quality depth, its defensive struggles and its ball-handling woes. The Great Danes pinned an 81-59 defeat on their hosts, holding a 58-6 scoring advantage in the paint and forcing 20 turnovers. Dartmouth played without starting point guard Nicola Zimmer (mononucleosis) and 6-2 center Tia Dawson (concussion).
The Big Green trailed just 25-24 with three minutes remaining in the first half, but was down five by intermission and by 10 just two minutes after it. Albany forward Shereesha Richards had 32 points and 6-foot-9 center Megan Craig, although certainly not nimble, added 14 and was enough of a defensive presence to force Dartmouth to shoot almost exclusively from outside the lane.
“We’re trying to do the best we can with what we have and the time we have,” said Koclanes, whose team had two practices to prepare for Albany after losing at American University in Washington, D.C., last weekend. “Our starting group was fantastic and I’m proud of them and of our first half.
“I talked to our team (after the game) about the importance of a strong bench. They had 17 bench points and we had six and those were (two 3-point shots) by Sophia Roman on the last two shots of the game.”
Koclanes can be bubbly and charming and overwhelmingly positive. But she’s showing her tough side, as well. There’s a sense the screws are being tightened in the Big Green locker room, that players are being held accountable in ways that might not have transpired the past few seasons.
“It comes down to everyone taking ownership of their role and responsibility to the team and coming to practice with a serious mindset so they’re better prepared when they’re called upon,” the coach said. “We’re trying not to get in foul trouble, but you see how quickly the game changes when we do.”
Leading rebounder Kamala Thompson, who entered averaging 7.8 boards per contest, didn’t start and played only five minutes. Koclanes didn’t duck a question about why, although she noted Thompson’s been battling a sore knee.
“We wanted our 3-point threats on the floor from the get-go, but it’s also about practicing hard and practicing well,” she said. “That’s where our players earn time.”
Dartmouth was once again led by freshman guard Fanni Szabo, who played the point Wednesday in Zimmer’s absence and scored 22 points. The Hungarian had three assists and four turnovers and didn’t look out of place, but bringing the ball up also isn’t her forte. Undersized backup Kaitana Martinez had no points and one assist in eight minutes.
The Big Green received 10 points and 10 rebounds from reliable junior forward Abbey Schmitt and nine from sophomore forward Lakin Roland. Freshman guard Katie Vareika made just 2 of 11 field-goal attempts and committed three turnovers during 37 minutes. Senior guard Eve Zelinger had no points and four turnovers in 16 minutes.
“We did a really good job in the first half of moving the ball inside and out and hitting shots from the corner and the high post,” Schmitt said. “The second half, we had some turnovers and some missed box-outs and our help defense needs work.
“We definitely need to play more team defense. Sometimes we get too caught up in what we’re doing individually and forget to stop drives in transition.”
This much is clear: Dartmouth needs real talent in its upcoming recruiting classes. Koclanes is pushing to get the most possible out of the horses she has, but you can’t win the Kentucky Derby on a milk-cart mare.
“We’re been recruiting since we arrived and we’re working to bring in a higher level (of athlete),” Koclanes said. “The only way Dartmouth women’s basketball is going to get better is if we bring in players who are already at a higher level than what we have.
“That’s vitally important to our future, but we’re taking baby steps here … and it’s not going to happen overnight.”
Notes: Dartmouth made 42 percent of its field-goal attempts, but allowed Albany to connect on 55 percent. … The Big Green took only four free throws, but made three of them. … Zelinger, a senior co-captain who averaged 15 minutes per game and saw action in 26 contests as a sophomore, entered the game having seen only 12 minutes of play this season. … For the first time in memory, neither Dartmouth women’s nor men’s basketball games are being broadcast on radio. The contests are described online only.
Tris Wykes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 603-727-3227.