Today, I was able to interview Princeton women’s basketball head coach Courtney Banghart. In her six seasons as head coach for the Tigers, the program has undergone a complete reversal of fortune. In her first season, the team went 7-23 and won just four Ivy League games. However, in the past three seasons, the Tigers have gone 41-1 in the Ivy League and entered the national rankings, a first for an Ivy League women’s program. Before coming to Princeton, she was an assistant for four years at Dartmouth. She also played at Dartmouth from 1996 to 2000 and won two Ivy League titles.
Your team has started out the season 9-5. How satisfied are you with the team’s beginning to the season in non-conference play?
Banghart: I think more than the record, you look at the quality of your opponents and the fact that we’ve played eight teams in the top 80 in RPI and played 10 teams with winning records, with all of our losses have been on the road. I think that says what it’s supposed to say with strength of schedule at 19 in the country and an RPI of 21. Considering we lost three 1,000 point scorers in the last two years, two starters out with injury, I couldn’t be prouder of this group.
With the fact that you went to and coached at Dartmouth, what is your perspective on the Penn-Princeton rivalry?
Banghart: The Penn-Princeton rivalry was actually more on the men’s side. When I was at Dartmouth, it was Dartmouth-Harvard since those were the two teams with the most Ivy titles, but since we’ve come down here, now we are a piece of the Penn-Princeton rivalry in all sports and it is special. To add to that, we genuinely respect Mike McLaughlin and his staff and what they’re doing at Penn, which makes it that much more special.
For the Quakers, Keiera Ray leads all Ivy League freshmen in points and assists per game. What have you seen from her this season?
Banghart: Keiera is having a great start. We saw her play at the Bolingbrook program. Keiera is just fearless. She can score on a dribble. She can score midrange. She can score from three. And she’s actually getting time. What holds freshmen back from their statistics is their playing time but due to their injuries, she has been into the starting lineup and she is making a good use of that time.
With Princeton, you have only lost three times in the last four seasons at home. How has Jadwin become such a large home court advantage for you?
Banghart: Is that true? Three games in four years at Princeton? Whoa, that’s pretty great. I didn’t even know that. I know that when you have an experienced team, which we do, it is nice to play at home because the cozy confines of your home gym takes away a little bit of the anxiety and the pressure. We have been fortunate with this group of seniors that we have won a lot of places, not just at home.
You currently have Niveen Rasheed, who is the reigning Ivy League Player of the Year. What kind of ability has she provided the team both offensively and defensively?
Banghart: Niveen Rasheed is probably the best player to ever play in the Ivy League. She is unbelievable. She’s got her motor, she’s relentless, she plays on both ends. She will probably be drafted into the WNBA for example, so she obviously makes a very good team better. I can’t say enough about Niveen. I’m very proud that she is in our league and I am obviously grateful that she is at Princeton. What she does is literally everything. She sets the tone with her effort, she’s tough, she’s a scorer, she’s a defender and she is our leader. She is a leader on the best team in the league and that’s pretty special.
What have you seen from the Penn team that you are going to be facing on Saturday?
Banghart: What makes Penn such an improved program in Mike’s tenure is how hard they play. They are better when they play together and [Mike] is such a great coach at playing to their strengths. They are playing hard for him and they are kind of where we were a few years ago: building to where they want to be. They aren’t there yet but they are building their confident and their base on a daily basis. And there aren’t a lot of people I would say this about, but I have enormous respect for Mike McLaughlin and his staff, so I’m looking forward to [the game].