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Defending MAAC champions visit Jadwin Sunday

This Sunday, the women’s basketball team will have its home opener against Marist in its second game of the season. The team lost its season opener against Rutgers 79-65. Head coach Courtney Banghart will continue to evaluate a young and evolving team as the Tigers take on the Red Foxes (0-1), who come in having won the MAAC eight times in a row.

The team this year has a big hurdle to overcome: the loss of last year’s seniors, including star forward Niveen Rasheed, who led the team in scoring with 16.7 points a game; third-leading scorer center Megan Bowen; and three-time Ivy League defensive player of the year guard Lauren Polansky.

The Tigers showed that they are up to the challenge in last week’s game against Rutgers. Junior guard Blake Dietrick, who was fourth in scoring on last year’s team, had a game-high and career-high 20 points. Sophomore forward Alex Wheatley added 14 points and 10 rebounds for the double-double, while senior forward Kristen Helmstetter, who was second in scoring last year, added eight points and nine rebounds. Freshman Vanessa Smith added seven points off the bench. Head coach Courtney Banghart said the game gave her and her team confidence.

“I actually thought the Rutgers game was a valuable experience for us, for our young team,” she said. “If we’re not continuing to evolve at this stage [of the season], it’s gonna be a real long year.”

“This group has been very effective on the offensive end, so I think we’ve stressed the defensive side of things thus far,” Wheatley added.

The team has worked in practice to continue honing its strong offense and improving its defense.

“Each practice, we get a little better and grow in a new direction, both offensively and defensively. We’re always working to improve,” Wheatley said. “I think the game last weekend was a good measure of where we are right now. There are always things we can improve upon, and the lessons we learned from the Rutgers game help us with the rest of our season.”

Although the team lost the opener against a strong Rutgers team that it beat the year before, it has a chance to bounce back in the game against Marist. Last year, the team lost 45-56 in a tough contest against Marist. This year, the Tigers are looking for revenge. The team showed a lot of potential against Rutgers and hopes to build upon that against Marist. Princeton has proved that it can score, so the Tigers will try to use their high-powered offense in front of a home crowd to win their first game of the season.

The Red Foxes are led by the experienced Leanne Ockenden, a senior guard who was named MAAC Defensive Player of the Year last season. Ockenden is a force on both sides of the ball and put up a team-leading 16 points in Marist’s opening day loss to No. 7 Kentucky. That is not to say that the team is dominated by upperclassmen — freshman guard Katherine Fogarty hit double digits in her first college game, putting up 11 points as the Red Foxes fell 75-61.

“We have a game plan from the coaches, and we will prepare to face a tough team,” Wheatley said.

Marist, which received two votes in the most recent AP Top 25 poll, may be the toughest opponent the Tigers see for some time.

“We’ve really challenged [ourselves] with a very tough nonconference schedule,” Banghart said.

This early-season matchup between high-scoring mid-majors will tip off Sunday at 2 p.m. in Jadwin Gymnasium.

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