Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Record, Broken

What is the rarest of the rare achievements in college athletics?

You can make a strong case that it is becoming a four-time, first-team all-league selection. To do so, you have to be great from Day 1, and you have to maintain a consistent level of the highest performance through all four years.

In some cases, you also have to avoid politics, as was the case in 1994, when Princeton men's lacrosse goalie Scott Bagicalupo was not named first-team All-Ivy League as a senior after being a first-team selection his first three years. What did the rest of the lacrosse world think of that decision? Bacigalupo, despite being second-team All-Ivy, was named the national Player of the Year.

In others, you have to stay healthy. Niveen Rasheed would have been a sure-fire four-time first-team All-Ivy League selection, but her knee injury sophomore year prevented that.

And, perhaps in others, you have to avoid the awful timing of the current Coronavirus situation. TigerBlog isn't sure if there will be All-Ivy League teams selected this surreal spring, though it's a question worth asking.

The announcement of the All-Ivy League women's basketball team was made last week, and to nobody's surprise, Bella Alarie was named to the first team for the fourth straight year. Alarie becomes Princeton's first four-time first-team All-Ivy League selection in women's basketball.

Princeton men's basketball team has never had a four-time first-team All-Ivy League selection. There have been four three-time first-team selections. Can you name them?

In addition to being first-team All-Ivy League for the fourth time, Alarie was also named the Ivy League Player of the Year for the third straight year. Only two other players, Harvard's Allison Feaster and Penn's Diana Caramanico, have ever done so before.

If you want to make a list of the greatest Ivy League women's basketball players of all time, or at least in the 31 years that TigerBlog has been watching, it's those three plus Rasheed. TB isn't sure the correct order, but if you wanted to say that Alarie is the greatest Ivy League women's basketball player ever, he won't fight you on that.

The four Princeton men's players to be three-time first-team All-Ivy selections, by the way, are Pete Campbell, Bill Bradley, Steve Goodrich and Kit Mueller.

TigerBlog and Princeton women's basketball go back a long way, and it was one of the first sports he covered here when he was with the newspaper. Back then, the sport was much different in terms of its national exposure, and TB was almost always the only person who would be covering a game in Jadwin Gym.

The Princeton team back then was led by Sandi Bittler, a three-point shooting marvel from outside Pittsburgh who shot a set shot that always seemed to confuse the defense with its release, since it looked like she was faking a pass more than getting off a shot.

She'd graduate in 1990 with 1,683 points in her Princeton career, which at the time was 61 points better than the previous record, set 11 years earlier by C.B. Tomasiewicz. Bittler's record would stand long after she became Sandi Bittler Leland, long after she worked for the NBA and then the WNBA, long after she had three children and long after she relocated to Oregon.

Through all of that, she and TigerBlog stayed friends. In fact, TB has been to her house in Portland, and his kids played whiffle ball in the backyard with hers.

Through the years, as someone began to challenge her record, she'd reach out to TB to ask if it would still stand. Meagan Cower came closest, falling just 12 points shy with 1,671 in her career, though Rasheed would have flown by it had she not lost more than half a season to that knee injury.

With Alarie, the only question again was injuries. This time, though, that would not prevent her from reaching the magic number.

Alarie went into Princeton's game at Columbia two Friday nights ago (think about that and everything that's happened since) needing just three points. It seemed like there was no chance she wouldn't get it in the first quarter, except Columbia doubled her every time she touched the ball and Alarie didn't force anything, choosing instead to find open teammates.

As the game unfolded, TB was texting with Bittler. With her permission, he is sharing some of what she said during that time, as her run of 30 years as Princeton's all-time leading scorer came to an end.

"Let me know when it's over! I've enjoyed the run. Guess my luck has run out."

How does this make you feel, TB asked.


That was funny.

"Whoever thought it would last this long? And the athletes today are so impressive. I haven't been relevant for a long time, so at least my name will be mentioned for getting past me in the record book. That part is fun."

TB asked her if she remembered the game where she broke the record before hers.

"I remember it was a three-pointer from the top of the key but I don't remember which game."

Once Alarie got to 1,684, this was the response:

"We that was fun. Now I'm off to make dinner and take the kids to basketball practice, all the things Bella will be doing 30 years from now."

TB then connected her with Bella, and two exchanged text messages after the game.

It was a nice, classy move by the former record holder to the new one. That's how it's supposed to be.

For 30 years no women's basketball player at Princeton ever scored more points than Sandi Bittler Leland. Her place in Tiger history is secure. 

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Dartmouth's Gail Koziara was Ivy League Player of the Year three times, 1979-80, '80-'81 and '81-'82. She finished with 1,933 points, 1,635 rebounds and 171 blocks. A different time, for sure, but her domination was absolute.