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Princeton had historic run

Featured Chatham High School graduate Amanda Berntsen helped Princeton to a 31-1 record. Photos courtesy of Princeton University Chatham High School graduate Amanda Berntsen helped Princeton to a 31-1 record.
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PRINCETON _ At the first workout of the 2015-16 Princeton women's basketball season, Amanda Berntsen felt a bit odd.

It was Monday, April 6 - exactly two weeks after the previously undefeated Tigers fell to Maryland 85-70 in a NCAA second-round game - and Berntsen, a Chatham High School graduate, experienced a brief spell of separation anxiety.

"The seniors weren't around," Berntsen said. "It was really tough to say goodbye to them. The weirdest part is we're the seniors now. We're the leaders. I'm glad to be back with the team. We love each other."

Berntsen, one of two players to start all 32 games for Princeton (the other was Blake Dietrick), welcomes the opportunity to inspire and influence her teammates yet cannot fathom that three years of college already have gone by.

"It's really unbelievable," said Berntsen, a politics major. "College basketball seasons are so long. It's been great, though. This season was awesome. Amazing. A whirlwind."

It certainly was. The Tigers, under the guidance of Courtney Banghart, finished 31-1, rose to No. 13 in the Associated Press rankings and garnered an eighth seed. In addition, Princeton became the second Ivy League squad to win a NCAA game. Going 31 games without a loss, too, was an incredible feat.

And, Berntsen, who used the two weeks after the last game to catch up on schoolwork and spend Easter with her family in Texas, was right in the midst of it.

"I barely have words for going undefeated at 30-0 in the regular season," Berntsen said. "It's so historic. That record probably won't be broken for many years. To think I was a part of it... I'm so honored, so privileged. I can say I helped."

Berntsen, a guard, averaged 6.9 points and 22.9 minutes. She made a team-high 41 steals. On Jan. 30 at Harvard, Berntsen scored a career-high 17 points, making 6-of-7 field goals. She had a career-high five steals versus Drexel.

The moments that occurred off the court were special. While in Washington, D.C. to play American University in late November, the Tigers took a private tour of the White House, one of the perks of having freshman Leslie Robinson, the niece of President Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle, on the team. The Princeton players took to the court there, shooting and enjoying the moment in dress clothes.

A day later, the First Lady, her mother and daughters Sasha and Malia went to the game. At halftime, Michelle Obama, a 1985 graduate of Princeton, visited the Tigers in the locker room.

"She told us she loved how hard we were playing," Berntsen recalled. "She told us to keep it up in the second half. It was so, so cool. How many people can say they met the First Lady?"

The President attended Princeton's first-round game against the University of Wisconsin in College Park, Md. That, too, was a thrill.

"So many memories of the season," Berntsen said. "It was really wonderful."

According to Berntsen, the Tigers succeeded because of their closeness. She said the team "did everything together."

"On road trips, we'd all go in one room, snuggle on the bed and watch TV," she said.

Having their perfect season come to an end was sad, of course, but Berntsen said she and her teammates reflected and realized what they had done.

"We wanted the Sweet 16," said Berntsen, who will spend the summer working at J.P. Morgan on Wall Street. "Still, it's like 'Wow! Look what we accomplished.' It was really hard work but definitely worth it."

Victories over Wake Forest and Montana at the Cancun Challenge from Nov. 27-29 made the Tigers know they had potential. Shortly after, there were wins over Georgetown and Michigan.

The recent season, however, is rapidly fading away. The Tigers are lifting four times a week and engaging in pickup games twice a week. There are hour-long "individuals," in which five players work in groups with the coaches.

Berntsen looks forward to her final year and all of the responsibilities that go with it. She is humbled that Banghart, the Naismith Women's College Coach of the Year, trusts her to be in the starting lineup.

Last modified onFriday, 24 April 2015 01:58
Sandy Seegers

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