As the tenth anniversary of the last Ivy championship for women’s basketball arrives this winter, the three-peat of the early 1990s—three consecutive league titles—is becoming a distant memory. Could the Bears mark the anniversary by hanging a 2004 championship banner in the Pizzitola Center?
Every player returns from last year’s landmark season, in which the team pulled off one of the most dramatic turnarounds in Division I women’s basketball. By finishing 15–12 overall and 9–5 in the Ivies, the revitalized Bears improved by ten wins their record of the difficult 2002 winter, when they finished 5–22 overall and dead last in the Ivies at 2–12.
Of course, taking that next step, from feel-good story to league champion, won’t be easy. Brown, which finished second in a tie with Dartmouth and Penn in the Ivies last year, must fend off those schools while bridging a five-win gap with two-time defending champion Harvard, which beat the Bears, 83–51, in last year’s final game. “We will contend,” vows coach Jean Burr, who enters her sixteenth season on College Hill. The league “is wide open,” she says: “Harvard has everyone back. It’ll be a dogfight.”
Forward Miranda Craigwell ’04, who with Nyema Mitchell ’04 and Tanara Golston ’04 has experienced the polar extremes of failure and success at Brown, is convinced the Bears will be in the title mix this winter. “Absolutely we’re contenders,” says the six-foot, two-inch Craigwell, a two-time cocaptain and Harriet Sheridan Leadership Award winner, “not only because of the sheer will we showed going from dead last to second place in the Ivy League, but because we have fourteen returning people who have played together and know each other’s games. The freshmen who played last year have gotten rid of their freshman jitters, and the upperclassmen have been playing together for a long time.”
Last year’s freshmen played a significant role in the Bears’ upswing. Guard Sarah Hayes ’06 became only the eighth player in the history of the women’s program to be named Ivy League Rookie of the Year. Hayes averaged ten points and 6.5 rebounds per game, was third in the league in steals, fourth in field-goal percentage, and ninth in rebounds. Joining her on the league’s All-Rookie Team was backcourt mate Colleen Kelly ’06, who led the Bears in steals with sixty-six, was second in the league in steals per game at 2.44, and averaged 4.1 rebounds, 2.1 assists, and 10.7 points per game, second best among Ivy freshmen. Kelly also launched a league-high 170 three-point shots and drilled fifty-five of them, the third-best percentage in the league. Guard/forward Ashley Van Kurin ’06, who was named the team’s Most Valuable Defender, was a prime reason the Bears led the league in blocked shots, steals, and percentage of field goals denied. “They came in ready to play,” says Craigwell of last year’s freshmen, “and ready to learn. They were good players and they were humble.”
For this year’s team to contend, seniors like Mitchell and Golston will have to maintain last year’s level of play. Mitchell led the team in points (13.3) and rebounds (7.9) per game, and led the league in blocked shots (fifty-eight) on the way to All-Ivy second-team honors. Golston last year averaged 12.1 points per game and dished out a team-best 129 assists en route to sharing team MVP honors with Hayes. And six-foot, five-inch Holly Robertson ’05, who averaged 7.4 points and 4.2 rebounds a game off the bench last season, bolstered her play over the summer by competing for the Canadian Junior National Team at the Junior Olympics in Taegu, South Korea.
“The expectation is raised,” Burr says of her returning players. “But to be a champion, you have to have a championship environment. It’s easy to say you are a contender. But what will you do to prove it? Are you ready to go into the weight room and bench those thirty extra pounds so you can rip that ball away from a Harvard girl?”