January 23, 2008: Sports
Sports Scores Updated weekly
By Ashley Wolf ’08
Meagan Cowher ’08 led the Ivy League in scoring last year, and she could be the top scorer in Princeton women’s basketball history by the end of this season. But when first-year head coach Courtney Banghart came to town in May, she immediately laid out an improvement plan. Banghart, a former Dartmouth assistant coach, had been scouting Cowher for three years, so she knew the star’s few weaknesses, including her limited skill set with her back to the basket.
“Meg’s been able to score as much as she wanted going right,” Banghart said, so Ivy coaches have tried to shut down Cowher’s right-handed post moves. Banghart and assistant coach Melanie Halker worked with Cowher to develop moves in all directions, and so far, the work has paid off: Cowher has averaged 18.1 points against a challenging set of nonleague opponents, a point more than she scored against non-Ivy teams last season.
The 6-foot-1-inch Cowher often matches up with players who are taller and stronger, but her athleticism and persistence overcome the deficiency. “I feel more comfortable [in the post],” she said. “I use my speed and the mismatch. I like to think I’m deceptively strong.”
To complement her low-post moves, Cowher also shoots smooth midrange turnaround jump shots and threads passes to teammates on the perimeter. Through Jan. 1, Cowher ranked fourth on Princeton’s all-time scoring list, with 1,392 points. To knock Sandi Bittler ’90 from the top spot, she will need 18.3 points per game for the season’s remaining 16 games.
“In the moment, it’s hard to get the historical perspective,” Cowher said. “It’s an honor to be considered in the rank of all the great players who have come through the women’s program.”
Cowher was recently named as one of 50 candidates for the Naismith Trophy, the most prestigious award in college basketball. Despite her dominance, Cowher is far from the most famous member of her family. Her father, Bill Cowher, is the former head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers, and her mother, Kaye Cowher, was a professional basketball player.
As an 8-year-old, Meagan was called upon to referee one-on-one basketball games between her parents. They were so competitive they couldn’t play without a mediator. “We’re a competitive family to the core,” Meagan said. “Going into sports was natural.”
Kaye inspired Meagan’s love for basketball, teaching her in the driveway and coaching her youth teams, but Meagan was a football fanatic first. “That curly-haired girl going nuts on the sidelines in Remember the Titans — that was me as a child,” Meagan said. During the preseason, she’d shadow her father on the sidelines, and when relegated to the coaches’ box, she would second-guess his decisions and call him out afterward.
Cowher’s most successful season at Princeton came in 2006, a few weeks after her father won his Super Bowl ring. The Tigers faced the toughest road trip of the year with two crucial games against Harvard and Dartmouth and won both on their way to a three-way tie for the championship. “That year the team was very special,” Cowher said. “We really just executed our game plans both those days, which put us in contention for the Ivy League title.”
The 2006–07 season brought frustration and a .500 league record for a Princeton squad that held itself to a high standard. This year, Banghart has reinvigorated the team with a new offense and defense, and the Tigers have started to click. Competitive non-league losses to Rutgers, California, and Syracuse suggest that Princeton is ready to handle anything the Ivy League throws its way.
Leading the team is Cowher, doing whatever the Tigers need most. As a senior captain, she has shouldered additional responsibility, and Banghart has confidence in her leadership.
“She’s really special,” Banghart said. “Often the best player is not the most coachable, but she believes in being a teammate. ... She’s at the center of what we do.”
Ashley Wolf ’08 is a molecular biology major from Montville, N.J.
After losing seven straight games, including six on the road or at neutral courts, the men’s basketball team returned home to play Manhattan Dec. 16, hoping to recapture some of the success it had in two early-season wins at Jadwin Gym. The Tigers started well, sinking more than half of their shots in the first half and taking a 13-point lead shortly after halftime, but the Jaspers responded in the final 12 minutes, making 13 of their last 17 shots in a 71–66 comeback win.
Manhattan’s defensive pressure derailed what had been one of Princeton’s sharpest offensive games of the year. On the opposite end, the Tigers contested every shot but could not break the Jaspers’ rhythm. “In key moments, we just didn’t get the stops that we needed,” head coach Sydney Johnson ’97 said afterward. “Those are the kinds of games that show up in our league as well, so we hope that we’ll nip that.”
Princeton’s struggles continued with losses at Marshall Dec. 22 and at Monmouth Dec. 30. The 10-game losing streak tied a school record.
When the Tigers are playing well, the offense alternates between two complementary strengths: the inside scoring of center Zach Finley ’10 and the outside shooting of Lincoln Gunn ’10, Noah Savage ’08, and Kyle Koncz ’08. If opponents try to double-team Finley, Princeton’s 3-point shooters find open shots. And when the defense contests shots on the perimeter, Finley finds more breathing room near the basket.
For the first 30 minutes of the Manhattan game, Princeton found success on both fronts: Finley scored 17 points, and the Tigers made six 3-point shots. “With varying degrees of success, we’ve tried to do that all year long,” Johnson said. “We’ve talked a lot about having a balanced team.”
Princeton’s most valuable contributors have been Finley and Gunn, two sophomores who joined the starting lineup as freshmen last season. Finley has been patient but assertive on the post, leading the Tigers with 11.4 points and 5.5 rebounds per game through Jan. 1. He also has shown flashes of dominance on defense, blocking seven shots against Chaminade Nov. 21. Gunn, a prolific shooter, has improved his dribbling and passing. He has led the team in assists and is close behind Finley in scoring and rebounding (9.3 points and 3.8 rebounds per game).
While Princeton’s early losses included a few blowouts — a 22-point loss to Duke Nov. 19, a 23-point defeat at Penn State Dec. 12 — the Tigers also have been competitive, losing three games by five points or fewer. With the exception of a lackluster trip to Evansville Dec. 5, where the team managed only 32 points and lost by 21, Johnson said he has been happy with Princeton’s effort. “Clearly, you want a win to confirm some of the good things that these guys are doing, and it just hasn’t come,” he said.
Princeton’s nonleague schedule is arguably the toughest among Ivy teams this year. Of the Tigers’ 10 losses, eight came against teams that had winning records as of Jan. 1. But according to Finley, a losing streak is frustrating regardless of the opponents. “We’ve played some good teams, we’ve put our work in at practice, and no one wants to lose,” he said. “I won’t say we’re desperate when we go out there and play, but we’re trying to go out there to win. It’s hard when that doesn’t happen.”
Could a men’s basketball team other than Princeton or Penn represent the Ivy League in the NCAA Tournament in March? It has not happened since 1988, but many Ivy observers believe this will be the year. PAW takes a quick look at the rest of the league, through Jan. 1.
Brown (6–5) All-Ivy guard Mark McAndrew leads the league in scoring with 16.3 points per game. The Bears, coached by Craig Robinson ’83, won at Northwestern (Nov. 24) against one of Robinson’s mentors, former Princeton coach Bill Carmody.
Columbia (5–7) The Lions started the year with seven consecutive games away from home, posting a 3–4 record. Columbia’s frontcourt duo of All-Ivy forward John Baumann and center Ben Nwachukwu is among the league’s best.
Cornell (6–4) The media poll’s preseason favorite features the Ivy League’s top two assist leaders, Louis Dale and Collin Robinson, a transfer from USC, as well as 2006 Ivy Rookie of the Year Adam Gore, who missed nearly all of last season with a knee injury.
Dartmouth (5–7) The Big Green, searching for its first winning season this decade, started strong, posting its best nonleague start since 2001–02. Forward Alex Barnett and guard DeVon Mosley have combined to average nearly 29 points per game.
Harvard (4–11) The Crimson shocked Michigan, new head coach Tommy Amaker’s former team, with a 62–51 win Dec. 1 in Cambridge. Harvard’s offense has shown explosive potential, scoring 90 points or more in two wins.
Penn (4–8) Penn lost its first three games and dropped below the radar, but the Quakers showed signs of improvement in December, when freshman forward Tyler Bernardini averaged 17.6 points per game in five games.
Yale (3–7) The Bulldogs have been building toward this season, with four seniors in the starting lineup and a second-place Ivy finish last year. All-Ivy guard Eric Flato excelled in wins over Fairfield Dec. 4 and Vermont Dec. 8.
By Eric Dodds ’10
Like a lit match, hopes for the men’s hockey team burned brightly at the outset of the season but began to dim as the Tigers headed deeper into the season. Princeton dropped two nonconference games to sixth-ranked Notre Dame Dec. 7 and 8, falling short of coach Guy Gadowsky’s goal for the team to have a winning record at the holiday break. But in spite of their cold streak, the Tigers remained poised to challenge for the ECAC Hockey title, standing in fourth place, only four points behind league-leading Clarkson.
Princeton (5–7, 4–4 ECAC Hockey) began the season looking like one of the league’s teams to beat, sweeping Cornell and Colgate on the road for the first time since 1994–95. Following the wins, the Tigers stood as one of two undefeated teams in Division I hockey and were ranked No. 18 in the nation.
The Tigers were unable to continue their momentum when they returned to Baker Rink for their first home series of the season, losing to St. Lawrence and Clarkson. The losses began a disheartening trend for Princeton, which started 1–6 on its home ice. The team’s first home win came on Dec. 1 against Union. Brett Wilson ’09 had two goals and an assist, and Mark Magnowski ’10 scored the game-winner in a 4–3 victory.
“We knew [that] if we were going to be successful, we’d have to start winning at home because that’s a big thing when you’re fighting for a playoff spot,” Wilson said after the Union game.
In the first half of the season, the top line of Wilson, Lee Jubinville ’09, and Cam MacIntyre ’10 paced the Tigers, scoring more than half of the team’s goals. Captain Mike Moore ’08 has led the team’s defensive efforts, supplying six assists and a steady stream of big hits. Zane Kalemba ’10 had a 4–4 record in goal and was named ECAC Hockey goaltender of the week for his efforts against Cornell and Colgate.
Gadowsky remained optimistic about his team’s chances in the remainder of its schedule. “We’re .500 in league play,” he said. “We’ve played well on the road, which is very hard to do, so that’s given us a lot of confidence going forward. Now we just have to do better at home.”
Eric Dodds ’10 is a senior writer for The Daily Princetonian from New York.
With back-to-back shutouts at Union and Rensselaer Dec. 7 and 8, WOMEN’S HOCKEY improved to 7–7–2 overall and climbed to fourth place in the ECAC Hockey standings.
WOMEN’S SQUASH, the defending Howe Cup champion, opened the season with three 9–0 sweeps, defeating Cornell Nov. 18, Brown Dec. 1, and Williams Dec. 2. MEN’S SQUASH also started strong, defeating Western Ontario, Cornell, Brown, Franklin & Marshall, and Williams in its first five matches.
Princeton WRESTLING dropped dual meets to Duquesne Dec. 7 and the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy and Binghamton Dec. 15. Two Tigers, 125–pound competitor Tony Comunale ’11 and heavyweight Sam Ritter ’08, posted wins against all three opponents.
WOMEN’S VOLLEYBALL lost 3–1 to Delaware in the NCAA Champion-ships Nov. 30. It was Princeton’s first NCAA playoff appearance since 2000.
WOMEN’S CROSS COUNTRY placed 14th at the NCAA Championships in Terre Haute, Ind., Nov. 19. Christy Johnson ’10 led Princeton, finishing 41st, and two other Tigers placed in the top 100.
The FOOTBALL team ended its season on a high note with a 17–14 win at Dartmouth Nov. 17. Connor Louden ’09 scored the decisive points, kicking a 25-yard field goal in overtime. Prince-ton finished 4–6 overall and 3–4 against the Ivies to tie for fourth place in the league.
In the Ivy League’s seven fall sports, five Princeton athletes won PLAYER OF THE YEAR honors: Paige Schmidt ’08 (a three-time winner in field hockey), Michael Maag ’09 (men’s cross country), Liz Costello ’10 (women’s cross country), Diana Matheson ’08 (women’s soccer), and Parker Henritze ’09 (women’s volleyball).
Former baseball commissioner BOWIE KUHN ’48 was posthumously elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame Dec. 3. Kuhn, who presided over Major League Baseball from 1969 to 1984, will be the first Princetonian (and the fourth commissioner) to be enshrined in Cooperstown.