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Penn women's basketball faces stiff competition at the top of the Ivy League this year, as the Red and Blue are tabbed to battle with Princeton for the championship.

Credit: Alec Druggan

Penn and Princeton are widely expected to top the Ancient Eight this season, but the final two spots in the Ivy League Tournament are very much up for grabs. Before Ivy League play is due to begin in two months, here is a preview of all the familiar foes that Penn women's basketball will face, in the order of how they were ranked in the Ivy preseason poll.

Princeton 2018-19 Record: (22-10, 12-2 Ivy, Ivy League Champions)

Biggest Loss: Gabrielle Rush

Player to watch: Bella Alarie

The back-to-back Ivy League champions will lose one of their major contributors, sharpshooting guard Gabrielle Rush, to graduation. That loss isn't the most notable one on the roster. Coach Courtney Banghart, who in her 13-year tenure guided Princeton to five Ivy League titles and eight NCAA appearances, has gone to North Carolina. Replacing her is coach Carla Berube from Tufts.

Amidst the uncertainty, Princeton can look for stability from its most influential player: center Bella Alarie, who was voted Ivy League Player of the Year for the last two seasons. A senior, Alarie is coming off a 22.8 point, 10.6 rebound season that saw her named as a WBCA All-America Regional Finalist. Her battle with Penn center Eleah Parker will likely be the focal point each time these two teams meet.

Together with first team All-Ivy selection Carlie Littlefield and sophomore guard Abby Meyers, who returns to the team following a year away for academic reasons, the trio will likely shoulder most of the Tigers’ offensive and defensive responsibility. 

Princeton is also bringing in four new players to the team, including forward Ellie Mitchell, who was ranked No. 95 in ESPN’s Top 100 recruits.

Harvard: (17-13, 9-5)

Biggest Loss: Katie Benzan

Player to Watch: Jaydn Bush

The headliner for the Crimson is that first team All-Ivy point guard Katie Benzan, who led the team in scoring last season, has decided to forgo her final season with the team. Whether the Crimson are able to make up for Benzan’s offensive output will make or break their season.

Last season, Harvard fell to Penn in the Tournament semifinals, but they were the only non-Princeton Ivy team to have beaten the Quakers. Known for their scoring prowess, the Crimson led the League with 9.3 three pointers and 16.2 assists per game last season. The team is also dangerous when its shooters are not making shots, as they topped the charts with 14.5 offensive rebounds per game, led by junior forward Jadyn Bush, who averaged 3.3 per game (second in the League). Bush also led the Ancient Eight with an impressive .531 field-goal percentage, and she will certainly be one to look out for heading into her third season. 

Yale: (16-13, 6-8)

Biggest Loss: None

Player to Watch: Roxy Barahman

The Bulldogs, who failed to make the Tournament last year despite posting the same record as fourth-placed Cornell, are known for their toughness and grit. Last season, Yale had the second-best defensive field-goal percentage in the League (behind Penn) and the most defensive rebounds per game (29.4). They will look for leadership from senior guard Roxy Barahman, who can do it all for her team. A first team All-Ivy selection last season, Barahman led the League in points (18.6 per game), came in second in steals (2.0) and defensive rebounds (5.6), and was sixth in assists (3.9). Her partnership with sophomore forward Camilla Emsbo, who notched seven Ivy League Rookie of the Week awards last season, will be crucial to the Bulldogs’ success.

Cornell: (12-14, 6-8)

Biggest Loss: Samantha Clement

Player to watch: Laura Bagwell-Katalinich

After being picked to finish dead last at the start of 2018-19, Cornell defied all expectations by sneaking into the Ivy Tournament after beating Dartmouth on the final day of the regular season. Their reward was a quick end to their season by Princeton, the eventual champion

This season, senior forward and first team All-Ivy selection Laura Bagwell-Katalinich will lead the charge as captain of the Big Red. Last season, she came in fourth and third in the League in scoring and rebounding, respectively. Her free-throw percentage of .842 also led the League, making her a dependable late-game option. Besides Bagwell-Katalinich, Cornell is also returning second year captain Samantha Widmann, who piled up the stat sheet last season with 10.8 points, 6.9 rebounds, 2.3 assists, and 1.7 steals per game. Besides the team’s one-two punch, big things are also expected from newly recruited guard KC Carter, who amassed over 2000 points in her high school career and was a McDonald's All-American Nominee. 

Credit: Nathan Adler

Columbia: (8-19, 4-10)

Biggest Loss: None

Player to watch:Sienna Durr

Last year, Columbia won its most Ivy League games since the 2010-11 season, showing great improvement since coach Megan Griffith's tenure began in 2016. Most of that was due to the surprisingly stellar play of then-freshman guard Sienna Durr, who led her team with 14.5 points and 6.2 rebounds, all while shooting at a .487 clip, good for fourth in the League. As a result, Durr was rewarded with the Ivy League Rookie of the Year award, the first in the Lions’ history to do so. 

This year, Durr will look to go from strength to strength on a youthful Lions team that includes just two seniors. Joining forces with Durr are a pair of guards: sophomore Mikayla Markham, who led the League with 4.6 assists, and junior captain Riley Casey, who was the team’s second leading scorer and averaged the fourth-most threes per game. Given how guard-heavy Columbia is — only one player is officially recognized as a center — it remains to be seen if the team can derive a plan to effectively stop dominant paint players.

Dartmouth: (13-14, 6-8)

Biggest Loss: Isalys Quinones

Player to watch: Annie McKenna

Another 6-8 team that narrowly missed out on the Ivy Tournament last season, the Big Green boast youth, as they are forced to replace graduated stars. Second team All-Ivy forward Isalys Quinones and guard Cy Lippold, the only players on the team to average double-digit scoring, have graduated. In their stead, most of the offensive load this season should fall on senior guards Annie McKenna and Paula Lenart. The Big Green may also look to the four freshman newcomers to the team, adding to a geographically diverse roster that includes players from Australia, Romania, Spain, and Canada. Depending on how quickly these inexperienced players adapt to Ivy League play, Dartmouth might find itself challenging for a spot in the Tournament again.

Brown: (9-21, 1-13)

Biggest Loss: Shayna Mehta

Player to watch: Justine Gaziano

Brown started its Ivy League campaign last year with a 86-71 victory over Yale. That was the team's only conference win. The Bears are likely the most enigmatic team in the League. On the one hand, they were certainly adept offensively, ranking third in the League with 69.1 points per game, but their field-goal percentage (.385) was the lowest in the League. On the other hand, the team's defense struggled, giving up a League-high 78.3 points that amounted to a League-worst scoring margin of -9.2. 

With the departure of guard Shayna Mehta, who stamped her name all over the Brown record books, the Bears will likely struggle. Those tasked with keeping the team afloat will be its trio of captains: seniors Justine Gaziano and Haley Green and junior Dominique Leonidas. Last year, Gaziano ranked second in the League in both scoring (17.5 points) and three-point percentage (.360).

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