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Game Day Central: Yale Opens Historic 40th Season at Holy Cross

Allie Messimer. (photo by Sam Rubin '95, Yale Sports Publicity)
Allie Messimer. (photo by Sam Rubin '95, Yale Sports Publicity)

Game #1

Yale Bulldogs (0-0; 0-0 Ivy League) at Holy Cross Crusaders (0-0; 0-0 Patriot League)


Opening Tip

The Yale women's basketball team opens the 40th season in its history at Holy Cross. The Bulldogs closed the 2011-12 season with a 16-12 overall record and a third-place 8-6 finish in the Ivy League. Friday's game is the first of 14 non-league games for the Bulldogs. It is the fifth straight season, and sixth time in the last seven seasons, that Yale has opened its season against Holy Cross. Yale has won the last four contests against Holy Cross, all by six points or less.



Scouting Holy Cross

The Crusaders finished the 2011-12 season with a 19-15 overall record and a 7-7 mark in Patriot League play, which was good enough for fifth place. However, that record is a bit deceptive. The Crusaders closed their season with six victories in their last nine games, which included a run to the championship game of Patriot League Tournament and a victory over New Hampshire in the Women's Basketball Invitational postseason tournament. Head Coach Bill Gibbons enters his 28th season needing to fill the void of his captain from last season, Meredith Ward, who graduated after starting all 34 games for the Crusaders. However, four starters and the team's top five scorers from last season return and should make the Crusaders a tough contender in the Patriot League. 


Series History

The 2012-13 season opener marks the 14th overall meeting between Yale and Holy Cross. Yale slipped past Holy Cross, 76-71, in the season opener last season to take a 7-6 advantage in the series. Yale has won the last four meetings, all coming in season-opening contests. The Bulldogs own a 4-2 record over the Crusaders under Chris Gobrecht. However, Yale is 2-4 all-time against the Crusaders in games played at Holy Cross, with both wins coming during Gobrecht's tenure at Yale. Yale's last loss to Holy Cross, a 66-59 defeat, came in New Haven on Jan. 6, 2008, while the last loss at the Hart Center, a 68-56 defeat, came on Nov. 10, 2006. The two teams have met in season-opening games in each of the last five seasons and in six of the last seven seasons.


Piling Up Victories

With 513 career wins, Holy Cross Head Coach Bill Gibbons is the one of three head coaches on the Bulldogs' schedule with more career Division I victories entering 2012-13 than Chris Gobrecht, who has 503 career victories. Gibbons ranks 21st on the active Division I win leaders list. He is 513-301 in 28 seasons, all at Holy Cross. The other coaches on the Yale schedule with more career wins than Coach Gobrecht are Doug Bruno at DePaul (510-282) and Joe McKeown at Northwestern (567-242).


First Impression

Despite a double-double from junior Amy Lepley, Holy Cross dropped its lone exhibition game on Sunday, falling just short in a 62-61 loss to Assumption. Lepley recorded 13 points and 12 rebounds to pace the Crusaders. Brisje Malone led all scorers with 17 points behind a stellar 7-for-9 shooting performance, while Holy Cross teammate Christine Ganser added 11 points. Senior co-captain Alex Smith added eight points, nine assists and six rebounds.


High Expectations

Although it finished fifth in the Patriot League in the 2011-12 regular season, Holy Cross made a surprising run all the way to the championship game of the Patriot League Tournament. The Crusaders won't take anyone by surprise this season, as they were selected to finish third in the league's preseason poll, as voted on by the league's coaches and sports information directors. The Crusaders received 70 points in the poll and even garnered one first-place vote, while Navy earned top billing with 89 total points and eight first-place votes, just ahead of American's 85 points and six first-place votes. Army, who will host Yale on Dec. 1, was selected for fourth place with 66 points and one first-place vote.


Top Patriots

Holy Cross' co-captains Amy Lepley and Alex Smith were selected to the preseason All-Patriot League Team in a vote by the league's coaches and sports information directors. Last season, Smith earned All-Patriot League First Team honors after she ranked second on the Crusaders in scoring (12.5 ppg.) and first on the team and among league leaders in assists (5.5 apg.). She also led the league in 3-pointers made with 85. Lepley, who earned All-Patriot League Second Team honors last season, led the Crusaders in scoring (13.4 ppg.), which was third among league leaders, and rebounds (6.4 rpg.), which ranked ninth in the league. 



Celebrating History

The 2012-13 season marks the 40th season of women's basketball at Yale University. In 1972-73, women's basketball appeared on the Yale scene as a club sport and became a varsity sport the following year. The Bulldogs made an impressive Ivy debut, finishing second in the League in 1974-75. In 1976, Louise O'Neal was hired as the first full-time women's basketball coach and Yale won its first Ivy League championship in 1978-79. The Bulldogs have won 438 games since their debut. A total of nine men and women have coached women's basketball at Yale, and there have been 35 women who have been named captain in those 40 seasons. In its 40 seasons, the women's basketball team has seen one player win Ivy League Player of the Year award (Tonya Lawrence, 1988-89), four Ivy League Rookies of the Year (Sarah Halejian, 2011-12; Melissa Colborne, 2006-07; Katy Grubbs, 1995-96; Mary Kalich, 1991-92), 18 players on the All-Ivy League First Team, and 17 players score more than 1,000 career points. Throughout the season, Yale will be celebrating the program's historic achievement.


A Leader from the Start

After leading the Bulldogs in scoring in each of her first three seasons, it is expected that senior guard Megan Vasquez will bring more of the same for her final season in a Yale uniform. Last season, Vasquez became the 17th player in Yale's history to record 1,000 career points, and she enters the 2012-13 season with 1,117 career points, which currently places her in 11th place on Yale's all-time scoring list. She needs just 52 points to pass Margy Hutchinson (1,169 points) and into Yale's Top 10 scoring leaders. Vasquez is coming off of back-to-back seasons in which she earned All-Ivy League First Team honors, becoming one of only six Yale players to earn First Team honors more than once in her career, and the first Bulldog to do so since Mary Kalich in 1992-93 and 1993-94. In her 83 games in a Yale uniform (61 starts), Vasquez has scored in double figures in 61 games and 20 or more points in 14 games.


Rookie Sensation

Sophomore guard Sarah Halejian made quite the first impression in her first season at Yale. Halejian became just the fourth Yale player to be named the Ivy League's Rookie of the Year, joining Melissa Colborne (2006-07), Katy Grubbs, (1995-96) and Mary Kalich (1991-92). Halejian played in all 28 games for the Bulldogs with 22 starts, including starts in the final 20 games of the season. She averaged 8.1 points, 2.3 rebounds and 1.9 assists per game in her rookie season. Her best month of the season came in a seven-game stretch in January where she averaged 12.6 points, 2.4 rebounds and 2.4 assists, earning four consecutive Rookie of the Week honors in the month. She ended the season with six Ivy League Rookie of the Week awards, tying the Yale record for the most Rookie of the Week awards in a season by a single player.


Oh Captain, My Captain

Senior Allie Messimer takes over for Michelle Cashen '12 as Yale's captain for the 2012-13 season, the 35th captain in Yale's 40 seasons. Messimer has served as one of Yale's top reserves in her career. On the court, she is one of Yale's top outside threats, leading the team in 3-point shooting percentage last season. Off the court, she has been a driving force behind Yale's annual Pink Zone plans.


Welcome to Yale

Yale welcomes five new faces to the roster in 2012-13. Lauren Thomer replaces Allison Guth as an assistant coach and Yale's recruiting coordinator. Four players have also been added to the roster as freshman for the 2012-13 season. Guards Whitney Wyckoff and Nyasha Sarju, forward Meredith Boardman, and center Emmy Allen, are all expected to play a big part in the Bulldogs' plans this season. Allen, a 6-foot-3 center, was rated as the 27th top post player in the nation by ESPN last year. Boardman, a 6-foot-1 forward, was listed among the Chicago area's top 50 players by the Chicago Sun-Times and the Chicago Tribune. Sarju, a 6-foot-tall shooting guard from Seattle, Wash., was listed as the 56th best wing player in the nation by ESPN. Wyckoff, a 5-foot-9 guard from West Chester, Ohio, was averaging 12.0 points, 4.0 rebounds, 3.3 steals, 2.3 assists and 2.0 blocks per game through the first four games of the season at Lakota East High School before suffering a season-ending knee injury.


Starting Short-Handed

Yale enters the 2012-13 season with three players recovering from significant injuries. Sophomore guard Hayden Latham and junior forward Alexandra Osborn-Jones are expected to miss the entire season following offseason surgeries. Latham tore the ACL in her left knee during preseason workouts in September and will likely miss the entire season. Osborn-Jones had ankle surgery during the summer and is also expected to miss most of the season. Sophomore center Arrice Bryant will miss the start of the season after breaking a bone in her hand, but her absence is not expected to last more than a couple of games.


Ivy Preseason Poll

Yale was selected third in the Ivy League's preseason poll following a third-place 8-6 finish last season. The Bulldogs received 96 points from a panel of Ivy League media and women's basketball sports information directors. The top three picks in the poll were separated by just 36 points. With 132 points and 13 first-place votes, Princeton was selected to finish first in the standings for the fourth straight season. Harvard was second with 120 points and four first-place votes. Penn (76), Brown (61), Cornell (58), Dartmouth (46), and Columbia (23) round out the final five spots in the preseason poll.


First-Place Votes in Parentheses

Rank       School............................................ Points

1.             Princeton (13)..................................... 132

2.             Harvard (4)......................................... 120

3.             Yale...................................................... 96

4.             Penn.................................................... 76

5.             Brown.................................................. 61

6.             Cornell................................................. 46

7.             Dartmouth........................................... 23 

8.             Columbia.............................................. 90

Next Up

On Wednesday, Nov. 14, Yale will host America East opponent New Hampshire at 7 p.m. inside the friendly confines of Yale's John J. Lee Amphitheater. It will be Yale's second game of the season and the opening game of the season for New Hampshire. It will be the 11th meeting between the two teams. The Wildcats lead the series 9-1.


Preseason Honors

College Sports Madness named Yale senior guard Megan Vasquez to its Preseason All-Ivy First Team in its Ivy League preseason preview last month. The Internet publication also named Yale junior forward Janna Graf to its Preseason All-Ivy Second Team.


Picking on the Patriot

For the fifth straight season, Yale will face Holy Cross, Army and Bucknell. All three teams play in the Patriot League. In the previous four seasons, Yale is 9-3 against the Patriot trio. Yale went 3-0 last season against the three teams, beating Holy Cross and Army at home and scoring a road win at Bucknell. The Bulldogs went 2-1 against the trio in 2010-11, beating Holy Cross on the road and Bucknell at home, but falling at Army. Yale swept the three teams in 2009-10, but dropped two of the three games in 2008-09, gaining the lone win against Holy Cross.


Yale Tales and Tidbits

  • Yale University, founded in 1701, is the third oldest college in the United States and one of the foremost research universities in the world. First known as the Collegiate School, it changed its name in 1718 to honor benefactor Elihu Yale.
  • In 1889, Yale students adopted the first college mascot, Handsome Dan, a ferocious and enthusiastic fan at early football games. Handsome Dan inspired Cole Porter to write Yale's famous fight song, "Bulldog, Bulldog." Today, the original Handsome Dan continues his reign from the lobby of Payne Whitney Gymnasium. Yale students also adopted the first school colors (1853), fielded the first cheerleaders (1890) and developed the first school fight song (1892).
  • Five U.S. Presidents have ties to Yale. William Howard Taft (1878), George H.W. Bush (1948) and George W. Bush (1968) all received their undergraduate degrees from Yale, while Gerald Ford (1941) and Bill Clinton (1973) are both graduates of Yale Law School.


Strength of Schedule

Yale's non-league schedule continues to offer tough tests in preparation for the Ivy League's 14-game stretch that closes out the season. Each season, Yale head coach Chris Gobrecht puts together a tough non-league slate to prepare her players for a run at the Ivy League championship, and this season's non-league schedule should test the Bulldogs right from the start. The schedule includes three games against teams from two of the toughest conferences in the nation. Yale will visit Chicago in November to take on Big East powerhouse DePaul and Big Ten force Northwestern. Big East power Georgetown is on the December schedule. In total, six of the 14 teams on the non-league schedule played in the postseason last season including Holy Cross and New Hampshire (Women's Basketball Invitational), Quinnipiac (WNIT) and DePaul, Georgetown and Sacred Heart (NCAA).


Follow the Bulldogs

Be sure to follow the Yale women's basektball team throughout the 2012-13 season on Twitter (@YaleWBBDawgz) and on Facebook ("Yale WBB").

Report filed by Jon Erickson Jr., Yale Sports Publicity