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Defense wins championships, so they say. That is why the Dartmouth women's basketball team is counting on senior guard Nicci Rinaldi when it travels to Penn and Princeton this weekend. After losing to last-place Columbia last Saturday, the Big Green currently find themselves one game behind first-place Princeton in the Ivy league standings. "It was a disappointing loss Saturday [at Columbia], but we're confident in each other as basketball players," Rinaldi said. "I think the team that wins the Ivies is the one that plays best as a team. Right now, we've been trying to regain our focus." The Big Green are relying on Rinaldi's leadership and defensive expertise to help them bounce back with a weekend sweep that would catapult them into at least a tie for first place. "Nicci adds to the team's dynamics," Dartmouth coach Chris Wielgus said. "She's fun to be around, and once practice starts, she's the hardest worker you'll ever find." Wielgus perceived Rinaldi's work effort during the recruitment process, which led him to heavily covet the Shillington, Pa., native. Rinaldi's numbers also made her a top recruit -- she holds the Governor Mifflin High School record for career points with 1,432. Knowing that she would be losing four seniors who helped her Big Green squad win the Ivy League title in 1994-95, Wielgus put heavy emphasis on getting Rinaldi to keep Dartmouth's winning tradition alive. Since arriving in Hanover, N.H., Rinaldi has made her biggest contributions as the Big Green's chief defensive stalwart. She is currently averaging 2.1 steals per game and is ninth all time in Dartmouth history with 173 steals. However, Rinaldi needs only three more swipes -- which she is on pace to get this weekend -- to claim sole possession of seventh place all time in the Dartmouth record books. "It's an intangible kind of thing," Rinaldi said. "I know what's going on and I have a good sense of where everyone is on the court." That same quality makes Rinaldi a successful offensive threat as well. She immediately made her presence felt as the quarterback of the Dartmouth offense, recording 83 assists her freshman season. Last year, she compiled a career-high 112 assists -- the sixth-best season mark for a Big Green player. "She's awesome in the open court, and in the half-court Nicci has a God-given sixth sense for where her teammates are," Wielgus said. Rinaldi also contributes on the scoreboard, averaging 9.3 points per game. In the past, she has been a major scoring threat against Penn. In fact, her career high for points in a game came against the Quakers. As a freshman, Rinaldi scored 23 for the Big Green in her first outing against the Red and Blue. While Rinaldi did hit three three-pointers in that breakout game against the Quakers, Dartmouth's 10th all-time leading scorer is better known for her accomplishments at the charity stripe. Although her career free-throw percentage is only .608, Rinaldi's aggressive play with the ball has sent her to the line so many times that she is fourth all-time at Dartmouth in free-throws made. By passing Ann Deacon and Cindy Vaios -- who graduated in 1983 and 1984, respectively -- last weekend, Rinaldi has nailed more free throws than any guard to have ever played for the Big Green. While Rinaldi has already left her mark in the Dartmouth record books, she is not sure if she wants her basketball career to end there. "My only outlet for basketball is playing overseas somewhere," Rinaldi said. "I loved the two terms I spent abroad, so I may use basketball to see more of the world." However, before Rinaldi goes anywhere, she still has some unfinished business in Hanover. "I need a [championship] ring," Rinaldi said. "That has been our team goal and my personal goal from the beginning." As Dartmouth's best defensive player, Rinaldi will play a pivotal role in the Big Green's attempt to close in on Princeton and realize their championship dreams.

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