SOUTH ORANGE _ For Amanda Berntsen and her young Princeton University teammates, the opportunity to play in the WNIT added 80 minutes of valuable experience to their postseason resumes.
The Tigers' run ended on Sunday, March 23 with a 75-74 loss to Seton Hall in the second round but it was yet another step toward gaining another much-desired victory in March.
"This was a great chance to be on the big stage," said Chatham's Berntsen, one of four sophomores who started for Princeton vs. the Pirates. "We need games like this. We're learning. It's exciting to think many of us have two more years together as a class. We have a lot ahead of us."
It appears they do.
Princeton, which received a combined 61 points and 24 rebounds and an average of 29 minutes from its soph starters, turned in an exceptional showing in its fifth consecutive postseason tourney appearance. Four previous berths were in the NCAA Tournament. However, according to Berntsen's teammate, Michelle Miller, a fellow sophomore, any game contested in a big-time setting is beneficial.
At Seton Hall's Walsh Gymnasium, the crowd was loud and involved. The bands engaged in their typical back-and-forth exchanges. Miller, a guard, added to the atmosphere by knocking down 8-of-9 attempts from 3-point range.
"Being in the postseason is great," Miller said. "This loss will motivate us. Our class has shown so much growth."
Berntsen, who graduated from Chatham in 2012 as its all-time leading scorer, male or female, said that each time the Tigers, winners over VCU in the opening round, play under these circumstances, they become more comfortable and less content.
"In the future, we'll feel less pressure, I think," Berntsen said. "When we've played in the postseason, there's been the pressure of getting a postseason win and of being the underdog. If we can get back to the postseason next year, I'm hoping we can check off a win."
Seton Hall (20-13) advanced behind Ka-Deidre Simmons' 23 points. The game was a thriller with the lead being swapped 26 times. Sidney Cook's three-point play with 10 seconds remaining gave the Pirates the decisive edge.
It wasn't a particularly good day for Berntsen, who has been among the top five for 18-of-29 games this season. The 5-foot-8 guard saw 16 minutes of action in the WNIT second-round game, playing solid defense and grabbing one rebound for Princeton (21-9).
From Nov. 26 through Feb. 8, Berntsen started 15 consecutive games. Her season high is 12 points, attained at Navy and Yale. She had eight rebounds twice, at Illinois State and Dartmouth. She averaged 5.7 points and 3.3 rebounds.
Berntsen spent much of the summer of 2013 in the gym, weight room or on the track with her twin brother, Jonathan.
"The hard work paid off," she said. "It was tough at times. There were other things I wanted to do but I was dedicated."
Princeton coach Courtney Banghart praised Berntsen's work ethic and her determination.
"Amanda is so relentless," Banghart said. "She is absolutely committed. Her desire to get better is palpable."
Banghart and the coaching staff have worked with Berntsen on changing her footwork going into her shot and her release.
"Her release was too low for college," Banghart said. "Amanda would travel if someone took her shot away."
Next on the list of things to improve? Slowing down Berntsen's pace.
Miller said Berntsen has exhibited great improvement since arriving at Princeton.
"Defensively, Amanda is one of our go-to players," Miller said. "She has a lot of speed, energy and toughness."
Schoolwork keeps Berntsen, a politics/international relations major, extremely busy. She considers her international relations class "fascinating but overwhelming." She is also taking math, psychology and U.S. history.
Over the summer, Berntsen will be in London, doing an internship at a trading and asset management firm along with taking classes at the London School of Economics.
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