Senior point guard Blake Dietrick leads Princeton, the last undefeated women's basketball team.
Blake Dietrick was nervous, on the verge of tears. She had just finished her freshman season as a point guard for the Princeton basketball team and had a very sensitive question for her coach, Courtney Banghart: Could she try out for lacrosse?
Dietrick had been a three-time US Lacrosse All-American in high school and one of the top recruits in the country. Virginia and Northwestern—schools that have won a combined eight national titles since 2000—wanted her. Almost every Ivy League school had shown interest. Still, Dietrick thought she could only handle one D-I sport, and she had picked basketball. But she knew she was capable of playing lacrosse at Princeton and she knew what was standing in the way. “I felt like I always would have wondered, What if,” Dietrick says. “But I hadn’t proven to [Banghart] who I was as a player and I feared she would think I wasn’t devoted to the team.”
Banghart and Chris Sailer, the lacrosse coach, agreed to compromise, and for the past three years, Dietrick has had few unfilled minutes. During each respective season, she dedicates about 20 hours a week to basketball and 15 hours to lacrosse. She tries to attend activities for both as much as possible and maintains close relationships with all of her teammates. Her experiences have given her almost 45 teammates, new perspective and a heightened set of leadership skills.
Dietrick usually puts down her basketball and picks up her lacrosse stick just in time to for the last half of Ivy League play. But this season, Dietrick may be joining her lax teammates a little later than usual. Princeton (25-0) is ranked No. 14 and is the only undefeated team in the country. The senior is fueling a run that Banghart hopes will lead to the first NCAA tournament win (in five appearances) for a Princeton women’s team.
Blake has always been a relentless competitor,” Banghart says. “But this year she’s learned how to bring her teammates along. We don’t just have an individual who’s really skilled and competitive and tough. We have a team that’s playing in her personality.”
This season the 5’10” Dietrick has established herself as one of the country’s top guards, earning a place on both the Nancy Lieberman Award watch list and the Naismith midseason top 30. She leads the team in scoring with 14.8 points per game. She’s also the assist leader (5.2) and third on the team in rebounding (4.9). The six-time Ivy League Player of the Week became the 22nd member of the Princeton 1,000-point club on January 10th, scoring 25 points in a win against Penn. In their first nine games of conference play, the point guard’s play helped Princeton win by an average of 28.7 points.
Dietrick’s impact is felt all over the court. She connects on 44.1% of her shots from beyond the arc, and the bubbly blonde is constantly encouraging her teammates with shouts of Way to go! or Nice shot! “Whether it’s seven in the morning or seven in the evening, a big game or a normal practice, she helps the rest of us be ready to play every day,” says junior forward Alex Wheatley. “Blake brings consistent energy on the court.”
Many of the qualities that make Dietrick successful on the court, like vision and defensive footwork, make her just as effective on the field. Senior midfielder Erin Slifer also played basketball in high school and knows how difficult it is to join a team more than halfway through their season. “Blake makes big plays in pressure situations,” Slifer says. “She scores goals, comes up with turnovers, and brings an added element that we benefit from. She’ll do everything in her power to help us get a victory.”
And yet teammates from both squads agree that Dietrick’s largest contributions are not found on her growing list of accolades or a highlight film but rather in her attitude and leadership. “She’s compassionate,” freshman forward Leslie Robinson says. “And vocal. She’s always making sure that freshmen are O.K. and that we’re doing the right things. I like someone who is straightforward and Blake doesn’t sugar coat anything. Ultimately she wants what’s best for us, and we want to reciprocate that.”
At Wellesley (Mass.) High, Dietrick scored 331 goals (and assisted on 180), making her the school’s all-time leading scorer for boys or girls. Inside Lacrosse rated her a top-15 junior in 2010 and so when Sailer called and expressed interest, the coach was thrilled to discover that Dietrick had not yet committed to a college. “She told me she was definitely coming to Princeton,” Sailer says, “and then she told me she only wanted to play basketball. My heart sank a little bit.”
For every lacrosse honor Dietrick earned, she nearly matched it with one for basketball. Dietrick was also the all-time leading scorer at Wellesley in basketball (1,440 points). She was nominated for the 2011 McDonald’s All-American game and was the Massachusetts Gatorade Player of the Year. For most of her athletic career, Dietrick had primarily competed against one-sport athletes. While it didn’t affect her performance, Banghart says that splitting time between two sports kept her off national recruiting radars for basketball. She was recruited by a handful of mid-majors including Colgate, William & Mary and most Ivies.
Dietrick had fallen in love with the Princeton campus when she first splashed in the Woodrow Wilson fountain in a Princeton T-shirt. She was 11 years old. Her family had made a brief stop at the campus while driving from Massachusetts to Florida to visit grandparents and she knew almost immediately it was a place she wanted to be. When she was a junior in high school, she emailed Princeton and sent some game film. She soon received an invitation to Princeton’s elite camp and earning Banghart’s attention, she had a decision to make. “Lacrosse had come more naturally to me,” Dietrick says. “I felt it was easier to be good at lacrosse just based on my athleticism, but I had invested so much time getting to where I was for basketball that it felt more fulfilling to continue with it.”
It wouldn’t be easy. At most other schools in the Ivy League she would have been a four-year starter, but at Princeton she played behind three-time Ivy Defensive Player of the Year, Lauren Polansky. Dietrick used that as an advantage, learning all she could from Polansky in their one season together.
Banghart says Dietrick’s growth will serve as an example for years to come. Even as late as last season, Banghart told Dietrick she needed to come back with a stronger left hand. And when she returned after summer? “She’s not just adequate [with her left now],” Banghart says. “She’s really good.”
As for her other sport… “I do play when I get to the lacrosse team,” Dietrick says. “But it’s really humbling. I’m learning. I’m coming [in late] to the team and in a different place in terms of hierarchy and leadership. It’s made me more aware of how what I say as a leader can be received in basketball, and how important it is to push people and be vocal, but to make sure you do it with a smile on your face whenever you can.”
Sailer is convinced that if Dietrick had more time to commit to lacrosse she would be an All-Ivy player, maybe even an All-America. “We’re happy that we get her for the time that we do,” Sailer says. “Blake has stayed true to what she wanted and the experience she wanted to have at Princeton by playing two sports. That takes a special player at any school, but especially at a place like Princeton that is so academically demanding. You have to maintain your focus and commitment to fulfilling your dreams—and she’s done that.”
Princeton has already conquered the types of opponents they could face in NCAA tournament play—teams such as Wake Forest, Pitt and Georgetown. If those wins weren’t enough of a statement, they’ve added a few dominating performances as well, beating Michigan by 35 and Portland State by 71 points. They also have the best team three-point percentage in the nation at 42.5%.
Selection Sunday is still a few weeks away, but the Tigers are following the right path and the right person to help them make history.