I sat down with the four seniors of Dartmouth women’s basketball, Kate Letkewicz, Andi Norman, Emily Slagle and Olivia Smith, to talk about the journey of playing for four years here, their time with Coach Belle Koclanes, and what is to come.
Starting simple, why did you come to Dartmouth?
Norman – A big reason I came to Dartmouth was because of Coach Belle, everything else really clicked for me, but I wanted to play for her and anywhere else I went I would have been disappointed knowing that I could have played for her.
Letkewicz – I definitely agree, the coaching staff played a huge role. Also, when I got to campus, it was everything I imagined college to be, perfect size and obviously great academics plus the athletics, it was a really good combination.
Slagle – Very similar to what they said, when I first met Coach Belle it was unlike any other coach I had met or talked with, and I really liked the family vibe here and the small community feel at the college. Also getting a chance to get a degree at such a prestigious institution while playing college basketball was really cool.
Smith – It’s the same story for me, I wanted to go to a really good school and the people here are just different than people anywhere else, our coaches and everyone else that’s here, it’s definitely that community feel. It just felt different here than anywhere else.
What is a favorite game or memory that you have playing here?
Letkewicz – I would have to say one of mine, I have a few, but one is beating Harvard my sophomore year at their place. It was just an awesome game, it really kick-started our Ivy League play and we were able to finish in the top four that year. That was just a really fun game and it’s always fun to beat Harvard!
Slagle – I think that one of my favorite games in the past four years is when we beat Colorado. It was fun because we went in knowing we were the underdogs, but I thought the way we played and walking off the court knowing that everyone had such a fun time but competed the best we could. That was a really fun experience.
Norman – One of my favorite games was our Alumni Weekend last year, our junior year. Friday night we played a four-overtime game against Columbia and Saturday we were honoring Chris Wielgus, so we had a lot of alumni here. The stands were packed with alums and we really rebounded Saturday, and to be able to do that in front of our alums after the night before was so much fun. It was really our best collective effort.
Letkewicz – And it’s a great feeling to feel like you made your alums proud and to see them in the stands so engaged and happy for us, that was awesome.
Smith – I don’t have a particular favorite game, but I really enjoy the kids’ games where we have packed stands just full of kids. It’s great to play in front of their energy and they are really into it in ways that other fans aren’t. I think it’s great to see the same kids coming back, after they’ve come with their school then they come with their family and continue to show community support and I think it’s really cool for us that we get to help influence their lives.
How has the bond between you all helped you get through challenges you’ve faced on and off the court?
Smith – I think here, with all the exercises we are put through, even though it might seem like a formality, like the doomsday’s and the hard practices, we have all experienced it at the same time and in the same way, so just that fact alone makes us closer.
Slagle – My team is like my family and I think that has shown over the past four years. For me, I went through a few hard times in my life and the first people I felt comfortable opening up to or talking to has been my teammates and I think that’s really special. That makes us stronger on the court, going through things together that are bigger than basketball.
Letkewicz – We’ve been through so many ups and downs over four years, just understanding each other on a deeper level and being able to support one another, when times really get tough, that has only brought us closer together and built the foundation for our team.
Norman – I think a big thing about it for me, is whatever I’m going through in life, I can come here and I have these guys and I have basketball. When I’m here I’m not thinking about all the other nonsense that’s going on, and these guys empathize and understand what I’m going through.
What is the best part of playing Dartmouth women’s basketball?
Slagle – (whispers) the snacks
Smith – We are taken care of, and it’s not something you fully realize as a freshman, you just expect it for being on a team. But we’re really lucky to be in this position and get all the good food that we get and get the treatments and be around these great people, like our coaching staff they are all great, genuine people.
Norman – I think, going off of what Liv just said, the people and our coaches and our teammates, it is so much more than basketball. Everyone in our program loves you as a person and wants you to be well as a person, I’m not just Andi the basketball player, I’m Andi, me. A lot of programs in the country don’t do that, they are there to win games, and Coach Belle and everyone in our program is so aware that its more than just that.
Letkewicz – Dartmouth isn’t one of the biggest schools for basketball and it’s not all about winning championships, but there’s so much care that goes into it from everyone, whether it’s the scout guys, Coach Mark, Scott, the masseuses we have. Everyone puts so much time and effort into what they are doing for us.
Slagle – The coaching staff is unlike any other staff I’ve heard of or been around. Like Andi said, they know we aren’t just here to play basketball, it is a major part of our lives and it got us here, but we are much more than that. I think that’s something the coaches really value and they’ve created a family atmosphere.
Do you guys have “the feels” about playing your final season, has it really hit you yet?
Letkewicz – I just got the feels
Slagle – Right now!
Letkewicz – I’ve tried to think ahead and yeah, I only have six regular season games left *knocks on wood* with this team playing organized, on a team, basketball. I’m kind of dreading our last home weekend and senior night, just because I know that’ll hit me super hard knowing it’s my last game in Leede… yeah not looking forward to it.
Norman – Even after our last weekend home I thought 'oh my god we only have two games left in Leede,' that’s just crazy. Since the beginning of the school year I’ve been so acutely aware of how quickly our time is dwindling.
Letkewicz – I’m just trying to be super present every chance I get with these guys, at practice trying to cherish and enjoy every practice and every moment, all these bus rides and everything.
Slagle – I have found myself sometimes on such a high thinking about being seniors and knowing what to expect, but on the flip side you’re on your way out. I try not to let myself wander too far ahead because if you think too far ahead you’re missing what’s you’re in now.
Smith – I agree with being in the moment, trying to savor every laugh every smile all of that. It’s just one of those things that you know is going to end so you are prepping for it but also enjoying the time.
You all have mentioned Coach Belle a lot, what would you say to her at the end of this, how has she influenced you?
Letkewicz – She’s a great person. Honestly. She made this dream come true for us to play at an Ivy League school. Brought us all together, made us into better people, I’m such a different person.
Norman – Without her we wouldn’t have any of this, wouldn’t have each other or this life.
Smith – She just generated this culture, she has had the vision of this year in her mind since she got here and it’s really hard to go through all she went through, I assume, and finally get here and succeed, so I just give her major props for that. It’s not easy to do.
Norman – I love that the four of us were able to do that for her, she brought us here and she gave us all this, and we’re able to give this back to her. We’ve seen the vision, now we’re at the culmination of our four years doing this.
Slagle – I think of her as one of the greatest mentors of my life, so it’s going to be hard living without her and living so far away. We’re pretty dependent on her, it’s been a great four years and forever thankful for her.
This is the last question: what is next?
Slagle – What do you mean?
Letkewicz – It’s a collective “I don’t know”
Slagle – I’m going to Walmart after this
Is it the Ivy League Tournament?
Letkewicz – Short term that is what’s next
Smith – I think for me what’s next is trying to find something that I love as much as basketball. It’s always been there so now that I won’t have it I want to find what I’m passionate about in that really deep way.
Letkewicz – I always thought I would play professional basketball in some way, so now that my body is not holding up as well as I thought it would, I don’t know if that’s my future. Along with what Liv said, finding something that I love as much, and also adjusting to the fact that I’m no longer a student athlete.
Norman – In a perfect world I would still play basketball, but we don’t live in a perfect world. I don’t know if I’ll ever get away from sports, so my dream job would be ESPN video production but that’s obviously a stretch, but I would love to do video production for sports in some capacity at some point.
Slagle – Kind of something that’s different for me, I mean we are all obsessed with basketball, but I’ve come to the realization that nothing can ever get better than this, so I want to end my career at the highest point here. I’ve been trying to figure out what’s next, I’ve been looking at grad school for occupational therapy. But none of us are thinking too far ahead, definitely the tournament.
Dartmouth’s four seniors will be honored during Saturday’s Senior Night game against Penn.