Some of the things about Maggie Connolly that appealed to Princeton coach Courtney Banghart were obvious – the quickness, the scoring touch and the intelligence. But one thing stood out above all.
“Maggie has been a winner in every phase of her basketball career,” said Banghart, who was thrilled when Connolly signed a national letter of intent to play for the Ivy League Tigers.
That winning was a way of life at Ursuline Academy, where Connolly was a member of three straight state championship teams, was voted first-team All-State three years in a row, and last year was selected as the Delaware player of the year even though Ursuline lost several starters from the previous season and finished the year 11-11.
At times, the 5-foot-8 Connolly had to be a one-girl show for the Raiders, but she still managed to average 16.1 points per game and led Ursuline to surprising success in the state tournament. The Raiders advanced to the semi-finals, knocking off second-seeded Sanford along the way, before losing to eventual state champion Conrad.
Banghart closely followed her career at Ursuline, as well as Connolly’s AAU team. And even though Connolly was primarily a shooting guard at Ursuline, she’ll be running the show at Princeton.
“Maggie will be charged with running the lead guard position for our team,” Banghart said. “There will be an adjustment to high-level college basketball, in regards to speed and strength, but we know Maggie will work hard to prepare herself for the opportunity ahead. She will grow into her role, and we look forward to developing her as a player, teammate and competitor.”
There will be competition, of course, but there is a spot for Connolly if she can grab it. The Tigers only lose two seniors of note from last season and one of them, Leslie Robinson, was their assists leader and second-leading scorer. That’s the role that Banghart envisions for Connelly.
And the Tigers should be loaded again. They won the Ivy League regular title with a 12-2 conference record and then rolled through the Ivy League tournament, winning their two games by an average of 25 points per game, including a 63-34 victory over Penn in the championship game.
Princeton went into the NCAA Tournament as a No. 16 seed and they didn’t hang around for long, losing to Maryland 77-57 in the first round. But the Tigers should rule the Ivy League again, and Connolly could be an integral part of that team.
That winning tradition, and the fact that Princeton is supposed to be a pretty good school, helped Connolly decide Princeton over other Ivy teams and schools like Saint Joseph’s, Richmond and Lehigh. But it was her heart, more than her head, that made her decide on the Tigers.
“I chose Princeton because, from the moment I stepped on campus and connected with the coaching staff and team, I knew it was a place I could call home,” Connolly said. “I’m excited to be challenged both academically and athletically, and to be in an environment where I am constantly supported and motivated.”
That was the same kind of support and motivation she felt at Ursuline with coach John Noonan, his staff, and her teammates, and Connolly wanted that same kind of atmosphere and those same kinds of relationships for her college career.
“I’m very thankful to have played for some amazing coaches at Ursuline who have an incredible knowledge of the game and a sincere passion to not only make us better as players but as people,” she said. “The biggest thing I will take away [from Ursuline], however, is the importance of team first.”
When asked if she has hoop aspirations beyond Princeton – like the Olympics or the WNBA – Connolly made it clear where he priorities are.
“To be honest, I have never really thought about playing after college,” she said. “Right now, I’m focusing on improving so I can be ready to contribute to the Princeton program.”
And her future coach said the chances are very good that Connolly will contribute a lot and do it quickly.
“Maggie has played for some of the best coaches around, and the high school and summer club level,” Banghart said. “She has a high basketball IQ and the skill set has continued to grow as she’s grown as a player. Like all incoming players, Maggie will have to trust the process and enjoy the journey. We look forward to all that’s ahead of her.”