Despite a turbulent start to the season, Middlebury womens’ basketball has been trending upward in recent weeks. After walking away from the Middlebury Tip-Off Classic tournament 0–2 and dropping close games to both Framingham State University (53-56) and Springfield College (46–56), the team has since won three of four recent games, claiming big wins against Vermont State University Castleton (75–57) and Union College (68–50).
This past weekend, the Panthers were narrowly defeated by Babson College (45–56) before gracefully taking down Wheaton College (79–56) at the Williams Shooting Touch Classic. With a tough schedule of conference play on the horizon, the Panthers will need to be at their absolute best if they want to secure their first conference title.
At a glance, the keys to their success moving forward are simple: The team boasts a robust defense, limiting their opponents to under 60 points in all its games so far. Offensively, the team has no shortage of firepower this year with Alexa Mustafaj ’25 at the helm. Mustafaj leads the conference in scoring by a comfortable 12 points so far this season (188), averaging 23.5 points per game. Out of possession, Augusta Dixon ’24.5 has also established herself as a force to be reckoned with, currently resting in the top 10 in the conference for both defensive rebounds (sixth) and blocked shots (ninth).
A deep postseason run will depend on the Panthers staying focused, vocal and hungry until the final buzzer, something that should not be an issue for a team that boasts a wealth of experience on the court. The Panthers return 11 players from last year and are led by captains Dixon, Emily Downer ’24 and Bethany Lucey ’24.
“We’ve already figured out how to work together and grow,” Downer said. “Now all we have to do is continue to grind together to get up to our best.”
The Panthers’ early season matchups are meaningful, but they mostly represent opportunities for the team to gel and find its rhythm. Once the Panthers kick off conference play on Jan. 5 against Hamilton (8–0), their season will be fully underway, as each matchup could potentially bring them one step closer to a high seed for the NESCAC and NCAA tournaments. If the team is able to find their flow and build enough positive momentum to take down key NESCAC challengers like Williams College, Trinity College and Tufts University, Middlebury could be on track to surpass their fourth-place conference finish last season.
For now, the Panthers have their eyes on a win against Stevens College in their next matchup on Friday, Dec. 29 at 3 p.m. in Hoboken, N.J.