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Big Green’s women’s basketball has some big goals to achieve

  • Dartmouth's Annie McKenna, left, is confronted by a Princeton defender during the teams' Ivy League women's basketball contest at Leede Arena in Hanover on Jan. 31.

  • Dartmouth women's basketball coach Belle Koclanes talks to her Big Green team in an undated photograph.

  • Dartmouth women's basketball coach Belle Koclanes directs traffic from the sidelines during a 57-41 win over Maine on Dec. 10 at Leede Arena in Hanover.

  • Dartmouth's Anna Luce (15) drives around a New Hampshire defender during a 66-47 win over the Wildcats at Leede Arena in Hanover on Dec. 18.

  • Dartmouth's Katie Douglas puts up a shot against at Princeton defender during the team's Ivy League women's basketball game at Leede Arena in Hanover on Jan. 31.

  • Dartmouth's Paula Lenart comes out smiling during pre-game introductions for the Big Green's Dec. 10 women's basketball game with Maine at Leede Arena in Hanover.

  • Dartmouth's Elle Louie (35) drives for a layup against the Maine defense during the Big Green's 57-41 women's basketball win over the Black Bears on Dec. 10 at Leede Arena in Hanover.

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 3/17/2020 10:58:05 PM
Modified: 3/18/2020 2:09:05 PM

The Dartmouth College women’s basketball team’s season possibly reached its peak on Jan. 11.

Trailing by a point with 17 seconds to play, Katie Douglas poked the ball away from a Harvard player, and Annie McKenna broke away for the winning layup. In the moments after its 63-62 victory over archrival Harvard, the Big Green celebrated as if it had won the equivalent of its Ivy League title.

If only those moments could’ve lasted a season.

The victory over the Crimson turned out to be only one of four Ancient Eight wins for Dartmouth en route to its 10-17 overall finish in coach Belle Koclanes’ seventh season at the helm of the program.

A decade ago, the Big Green was consistently atop the Ivy League standings with NCAA Tournament bids aplenty.

Since Koclanes took over in 2013, she’s pieced together a 77-117 overall record and is 34-64 in the Ivies; this season, the Big Green didn’t have one player named to the All-Ivy teams.

Dartmouth will lose four seniors — Paula Lenart, McKenna, Kealy Brown and Grace Phillips (did not play) — and is set to return only two full-time starters.

“The focus in our program is development and process, that leads to outcome,” Koclanes said prior to the end of the season. “We have our goal; our mind on 18 (Ivy League championships). We crave that. And now, year-to-year with the Ivy League tournament, everybody wants to finish in the top four so we can just have a chance. That’s obviously the focus coming into every season.

“We want a program where we play for our seniors. Where we all are on our timeline of individual and collective development.”

Here, in this preview of the offseason and review of the 2019-20 season, we’ll look at what the Big Green must improve on and what expectations need to be moving forward.

Biggest question: How will this offense improve?

The Big Green finished last in the Ivies and 338th out of 349 teams in Division I in scoring offense, producing only 54.5 points per game.

McKenna’s departure will only make matters worse. The point guard led the team in scoring (11.5) and assists (4.3).

When the offense clicked, which didn’t happen enough, it was efficient because turnovers were under control and shots fell. Dartmouth finished the year 308th in the nation in field-goal percentage at 36.7%.

“Our story all year has been scoring,” Koclanes said. “When we’re talking about offense, it’s putting the ball in the basket. When the ball is going in, we’re creating high-percentage shot opportunities and moving the ball together.

“It’s that attack mentality. We talk about it; we visualize it. We show them clips of themselves putting the ball in.”

Koclanes opened up the bench toward the end of the season to get a feel for who could contribute next season. Sophomore Jimena Abejon showed she’s comfortable standing around the arc and calmly hitting 3-pointers, and freshman Allie Harland looked the part of a point guard, turning the ball over only three times in 16 games.

Lenart’s graduation will hurt the chances of establishing a post presence. The 5-foot-11 forward gave the Big Green six points a game and could be counted on for a few offensive boards.

Dartmouth will win games with success from outside, and that means the sophomore duo of Katie Douglas and Asha Taylor has to be more consistent point-producers. The two are capable of shooting the 3-ball effectively and often; it’s the reason why Koclanes nicknamed them the “Splash Sisters.” Now they have to live up to the hype in their junior seasons.

Attempts from the free-throw line will be a telling stat, too. Dartmouth took only 260 shots from the charity-stripe, third-to-last in D-I. Easy buckets will help out any team with scoring woes.

Spotlight on: Elle Louie.

So much of the women’s game at the college level hinges on the ability to successfully shoot from outside. The great teams have slashers, players who are comfortable driving into the paint.

It’s the part that stands out about Louie’s game.

As a junior this past season, she started all 27 games and averaged 4.8 points, 4.5 rebounds and dished out 2.6 assists per game.

Louie can be a triple-threat attack for the Big Green. Her biggest problem throughout the 2019-20 season was her ability to stay on the floor consistently due to foul trouble. In those 27 games she started, she picked up three or more fouls in 13 contests.

Now as a rising senior, if she can improve her mid-range game off the dribble and can continue to be a threat in the paint, she can turn into Dartmouth’s top scorer.

Best-case scenario: After meandering around fifth to eighth place for the last seven seasons, the Big Green makes the jump back up to the top echelon of the Ancient Eight.

Louie becomes a full-time triple threat and forces opponents to pay attention to her on the floor, allowing the “Splash Sisters” to play their part and contribute 10 points every night. Meanwhile, Anna Luce turns into a dependable full-time starter after averaging over nine points a game in 2019-20.

Koclanes can begin to rely on Abejon and Harland much more often as the two turn into starting role players.

If all that goes as planned, then the Big Green can contend for a berth in the Ivy League tournament. Dartmouth needs to show some improvement next season.

Worst-case scenario: Koclanes has made it clear that she’s had a lot to rebuild since she took over in Hanover almost eight years ago.

But time can only get a coach so far. There has to be a product on the floor that is respectable and similar to what came before. Koclanes has got Dartmouth to .500 in conference play twice but hasn’t gotten over the hump yet.

It’s tough to recruit players to come to New Hampshire. But Koclanes’ predecessor, Chris Wielgus, did it well enough to take the Big Green to the big dance six times in 20 years in her second stint with the college, including three times in her first eight seasons.

If next season doesn’t go well, Koclanes’ time at Dartmouth may be up and athletic director Harry Sheehy might have to reassess.

Pete Nakos can be reached at pnakos@vnews.com.

Correction

Dartmouth women's basketball coach Belle Koclanes has a 77-117 reco rd across her seven seasons in Hanover. An earlier version of this story overstated Koclanes’ number of losses.




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