Roar Lions, roar!

Camille Zimmerman, seen here shooting 41% from downtown

This year was supposed to be awful for Columbia women’s basketball. In the Ivy League preseason poll, they weren’t just picked last, they were picked last hard, with a majority of writers projecting them at the bottom of the pack. And who could blame them? Last season, Columbia was 2-12 in conference. Their three top scorers were underclassmen, pointing towards 2016-17 as the goal year for the Lions. And just two months before the season began, head coach Stephanie Glance stepped down from her position to leave Columbia for a charity foundation, appointing her assistant as the interim replacement. Columbia was missing the experience of upperclassmen and the wisdom of their former coach.

So how did they end up with a better record than the men’s team?

Some issues with the boys aside, the lady Lions are 11-5, even after a close loss to Cornell last week to open the Ivy season. The improvement from last year is evident at every facet of the game. Total offense is up by 10 ppg, rebounding is up by 5 per game, field goal percentage is up by 4%, and total defense is up by 4.5 ppg. Additionally, fewer players are fouling out (thanks in large part to the departure of Amara Mbionwu) and free throw percentage leads the nation(!) at 79.5%.

This change manifests itself as the massive success of the team’s younger stars. Camille Zimmerman, CC ’18, has overtaken Tori Oliver, CC ’17, as the leader in minutes and points. She shoots a fantastic 46.7% from the field, up 11% from last year, and gets to the charity stripe more than any other member of the team, though not as well as Oliver did last year. Alexa Giuliano, CC ’18, the team’s resident sharpshooter, has seen significantly less time on the court, which might account for part of her improved success from beyond the arc.

And the freshmen on the team have already taken off. Emily Surloff and Josie Little have combined for 5 Ivy League Rookie of the Week titles, following in the footsteps of Zimmerman’s 6 awards last year. Little compliments Zimmerman with her rebounding and blocking numbers, and has been instrumental in forcing bad shots in the front court on defense. Surloff plays a lot like Giuliano, providing a threat from behind the arc with about as much consistency as her upperclassman. The result of these additions is fewer minutes for the upperclassmen, more flexibility in the event of foul trouble (especially for Zimmerman and Devon Roeper), and fresher legs when it counts on the court.

But, as evidenced by the close loss to Cornell last week, this team still has work to do. Columbia has often found itself unable to stop offensive runs from snowballing, as seen in the second quarter last week. They also trail their competition in turnovers, many of which are self-inflicted. Most disturbing, though, is that all 11 wins for the Lions came against teams ranked in the bottom half of the Division I RPI. The favorable schedule has resulted in a good record and necessary growth, but is not evidence of a team ready to run rampant over the Ivy league. Regardless, the team can take comfort in the fact that they have far outperformed external expectations and are already closing in on 3rd place for total wins in a Division I Columbia season. The future for this Lions squad is very bright.

Image via Columbia University Athletics / Peter Vander Stoep