After ten seasons as an assistant coach, Belle Koclanes gets a team of her own as she leads a young Dartmouth team through Ivy League. (Photo courtesy of American University)
Following a 6-22 season, the women's basketball program at Dartmouth College has injected some fresh blood to lead it, blending youth and experience on both the roster and coaching staff.
Leading the Big Green in her first head coaching position is Belle Koclanes, a 33-year-old Westchester County native who comes to New Hampshire after a decade as an assistant at Dartmouth's Ivy League adversaries Columbia and Penn, as well as Old Dominion and American Universities, the latter of which the former point guard at the University of Richmond; for whom she still ranks as the program's all-time assist leader and eleventh-leading scorer, spent the last two seasons.
Despite having one of the younger coaching staffs in Division I, a group that also includes assistant coaches Addie Micir and Maria Noucas, along with director of basketball operations Michael Motta, Koclanes inherits an experienced group at Dartmouth, one that is looking to take the next step and justify their fifth-place prediction in the preseason Ivy League rankings. Of the fourteen players to see action during the Big Green's 28-game campaign last year, only one has departed, that being leading scorer Faziah Steen.
In Steen's absence, the scoring duo of senior guard Nicola Zimmer and six-foot junior forward Abbey Schmitt will step into greater roles in the offense for a Dartmouth team loaded with size, as ten players on the roster stand six feet or taller. Between the Big Green's scoring duo, Schmitt is the more prolific shooter, having led the team by connecting from the field at a 43 percent clip and shooting 77 percent from the free throw line, while Zimmer is the three-point specialist on the roster, having shot 34 percent from beyond the arc to pace the Green.
While Zimmer reprises her role as the leading marksman, Schmitt is joined in the paint by 6-2 junior center Tia Dawson, Dartmouth's leading rebounder last season with an average of 7.5 rebounds per game. Junior guard Kamala Thompson is the fourth incumbent starter to return to Hanover this year, and comes back on the heels of a sophomore season in which she averaged 5.5 rebounds per game, good enough for a second-place tie among the team in that category.
Sophomore forward Lakin Roland is, statistically, the most likely candidate to take the fifth spot in the starting lineup after averaging 5.2 points and 3.8 rebounds per game in just seventeen minutes per game off the bench. Fellow six-foot sophomore Daisy Jordan will also see her share of minutes after injuries limited her to half of Dartmouth's 28 contests. Junior Milica Toskovic returns after a sophomore campaign that saw her rank third among the team in three-point field goals made, and sophomore Kaitana Martinez comes into her second year intent on securing the starting point guard spot after leading the Green in assists last season.
A pair of sophomore forwards add to Dartmouth's depth off the bench, with Lauren Taiclet and Kasey Crockett preparing for increased responsibilities, while fellow second-year teammates Jordyn Turner and Sofia Roman give the backcourt an extra line of defense, as does senior Eve Zelinger. Five newcomers join the Dartmouth roster this season, with junior forward Nicole Beresford returning to provide additional front line depth while she accompanies a quartet of guards in their rookie seasons: Chay Fuller, Hungary native Fanni Szabo, Katie Varejka, and Moriah Morton. Of the four, Szabo has the most impressive credentials, having been named the best player under 20 in her home country.
Dartmouth opens the first season of the Belle Koclanes era on Friday, November 8th on the road against Holy Cross, with their home opener coming against the University of Vermont on Monday, November 11th.