The Princeton women’s basketball team is hungry for an NCAA tournament win after getting bounced from the first round the past three years.
Bill Alden is sports editor for Town Topics, a weekly newspaper in Princeton, and says he’s watched the Tigers evolve thanks in large part to the team’s impressive seniors. “I think they’re at the point right now where just getting there is not enough,” Alden said. A win would mean a lot to the program.
Seniors Niveen Rasheed and her best friend Lauren Polansky are hoping that more experience and the lingering taste of last year’s three-point loss to Kansas State will help them make history.
Rasheed is a two-time Ivy League Player of the Year, and many are asking if she’s the league’s best female player ever. Polansky is a three-time Defensive Player of the Year.
Despite their impressive basketball stats, their friendship across religious and cultural lines has stolen more of the spotlight throughout their careers. Rasheed’s family is Palestinian. Polansky’s is Jewish. At first, the girls were surprised by the reaction.
“I think it’s ridiculous that people think we would even think about that,” Rasheed said, “but I do understand how we are role models in the world. And outside there is this stereotype that Jews and Palestinians should not be friends, or that they have this stigma of hate towards each other. So I’m glad we’re breaking that stereotype — event though we didn’t mean to.”
Polansky said they have an even tighter bond because of all the attention. “I am extremely close to her family. They’re like a second family to me,” she said.
Both women study politics at Princeton and, although they didn’t talk much about tensions in the Middle East when they played together in California as teenagers, they now have intellectual discussions about the issues.
Coach Courtney Banghart says can see why the duo’s story has gotten media play. “They transcend Ivy League players being at a high level. They transcend student athletes. They transcend the whole Palestinian-Jewish crisis,” she said. “That’s the kind of people they are. It’s special to have them both.”
Banghart says that the seniors have meant a lot to Princeton’s basketball program, and she knows they’ll go out in style.
Princeton is the No. 8 seed and will face Florida State in the NCAA tournament’s first round on Sunday in Waco, Texas.