Sixth-Year Coach Talks About Bulldogs' Outlook Against Ivy Competition
NEW HAVEN, Conn. — With the Yale University women's basketball team set to tip off Ivy League play on Friday against Brown at home at 7 p.m., Chris Gobrecht, the Joel E. Smilow, Class of 1954 Head Coach of Women's Basketball, took part in the Ivy League's midseason media teleconference with the other coaches in the league to preview the remaining 14 games on the 2010-11 schedule against the seven other teams in the Ivy League.
Gobrecht, who owns the most career victories of the eight Ivy League coaches, discussed her team's progress through the non-conference portion of the schedule, how injuries have played a big part in the early season struggles, and the tough road ahead against the strong competition awaiting the Bulldogs against Ivy League opponents.
I thought everybody should have reported how much snow they had outside their door. It would have been fun to hear. I know we are looking at at least two feet-plus here in the streets of New Haven. It's been a interesting night for all of us, I'm sure.
We are certainly excited to start Ivy League play. I know that it's funny, with my players, they go through that non-conference schedule and sometimes I'm not even sure they know who they played. Everybody is just numbers and we just go out there. A lot of times it's hard to get them fired up. And then we get into Ivy League play and all the numbers become names, faces, and they are just different people. It's a little bit like the NBA (where those teams) wait for the playoffs.
I'm sure if you look at Yale and you look at our preseason performance, you're definitely scratching your head. I know I am scratching mine. A big part of why it has gone the way it has is we have been missing two or more starters in almost half of our non-conference games. We still don't have Yoyo Greenfield back. We lost her about five games in to a concussion. We also lost Megan Vasquez at the same time. They hit each other in practice. We've had Michelle Cashen out. We've had Janna Graf out. Those are four really, really key people, and combinations of two of them have been out for six of our 14 games. That has definitely interrupted our flow and our development and our rhythm because we're trying to put people in and make it work.
At this point, thankfully, we're pretty healthy and we are hopeful that we will get Yoyo back. She's just taken a lot longer to come back from her concussion. We anticipate getting her back. She's our captain. She's a high-energy kid. She works her tail off. We really miss that. And we didn't have Michelle Cashen in our last game also. But for the most part right now, hopefully we're pretty good.
I was just sick to my stomach when I heard about (Princeton sophomore forward) Niveen Rasheed and (Dartmouth senior forward) Brittney Smith. For the league to lose kids of that caliber just makes you very, very sad. It's just not something that you want to see happen for the league, much less the other teams. We've all been there. We've all been through it. It has happened to us actually a couple of years in a row. It's just a hard thing but you have to carry on. That's what we're trying to do through our situations as well, but hopefully we'll be fairly whole as we get into Ivy play.
If we can kind of catch our stride, I just feel like this team can let loose. Florida State was certainly an indicator of that and our ability to beat those guys. I think we can be pretty good. I think we just have to get into a rhythm. That's the main thing. We were into a rhythm and then the Christmas break came and we've been climbing back out since then.
Can you talk about how you have battled through the injuries and some of the other players who have stepped up in the absence of the injured players?
I'm not sure we've battled through it as well as we would have liked. We're getting really, really great play out of our other senior. We only have two seniors, Yoyo and Mady Gobrecht. Mady has been playing very well and providing tremendous leadership. She's just been our rock right now. We've asked a lot of Aarica West. Even though she is a sophomore, she got hurt in the first game last year and this is her first season of competing in Division I basketball. She is actually a long time removed from competing at a high level because she went to prep school before she came to Yale. She is just coming back from that knee injury. We have two players actually coming back from ACL injuries, Aarica West and Amanda Tyson, who is one of our freshmen, and we think Amanda is going to be a good player for us at some point, but she's coming back from an ACL and she's a freshman. Aarica is in her first season of competing, but she's learning it and getting better every time out. Allie Messimer has given us some really quality minutes. We've asked a lot of her. She's just had to come in and sort of be the jack of all trades as people keep getting hurt. We've had some problem finding some consistency in the depth at the post position. Mady and Michelle are very good players who are really important to us. If they get into foul trouble, or in the case of Michelle, she's had some sprained ankles, it really affects us. But we're getting there.
Can you talk about the impact of freshman forward Janna Graf after she missed the first three games due to illness?
We knew Janna was a great player. We knew she was going to be an impact player. At the end of the first week of preseason, she wasn't feeling good and got very sick, and low and behold, it was mono. So she missed the entire preseason and the problem with mono is you can't even work out. You can't stay in shape. Here you are, you're a freshman and you don't even go through preseason and you get out of shape and then, boom, you get thrust back into Division I basketball. I don't think anybody could have handled it better than Janna Graf has handled it. She's kind of a stud athlete and that has served her well. She's been able to get back into shape and get with it a lot faster than I think an average player would. Now she is just trying to find some consistency. Sometimes she plays like a freshman. Sometimes she plays unbelievable. I think if she can get some consistency to her game as we get into Ivy play, we're going to be pretty tough. She is a good player. She knows the game so well and plays so tough.
Can you talk about Ivy play in general and what the keys to success will be for Yale?
If I had that figured out by now, we would be doing better than a fourth-place finish. It's really a different number completely. I represent the Ivy League on the committee that picks for the NCAA Tournament, so I try to help that committee understand all the time what it is like to compete as an Ivy athlete, how the variables are just so different than any place else. I know that having lived a different coaching experience for most of my career. I have so much respect for these kids and what they have to do. Their sport is not the center of their world. They have tremendous demand on them. They go to class. They don't ever miss class. They have to go to class. They get upset if we make them miss class. I was laughing at Princeton not worrying about playing after finals. We typically play really well after finals too because they are so euphoric. It just gives them this pump of adrenaline because they're so excited after finals are over. It's the back-to-back stuff and having to ride the bus, get off the bus and play a basketball game. You don't do that any place else. Only Ivy League players have to go through this type of a challenge, and everybody plays so hard. The kids play so smart. They know how to get calls and how to work the game. I think the reason that some of our most successful coaches in this league, primarily (Dartmouth Head Coach) Chris (Wielgus) and (Harvard Head Coach) Kathy (Delaney-Smith), they've been doing it a long time and they understand it so well. (Princeton Head Coach) Courtney (Banghart) has the edge of having played in the league and worked under Chris. Those are people that get this. They really know what they are doing. I'm trying to learn. I'm trying to catch up.
Report filed by Jon Erickson Jr., Yale Sports Publicity