A Big Year For Women’s College Basketball In New York

A Big Year for Women’s College Basketball in New York

Good morning. It’s Friday. We’ll look at why this season was a first for women’s college basketball in New York City. We’ll also find out how LaGuardia Community College will spend a $116.2 million grant from a foundation run by Alexandra Cohen, whose billionaire husband bought the New York Mets in 2020.

Women’s College

This was the first season that Columbia University’s women’s basketball team made it to the N.C.A.A. Division I tournament.

A Big Year for Women’s College Basketball in New York

New York University’s women’s team, undefeated in 31 games, also made it to the postseason, making this the first year that the two colleges have done so at the same time — Columbia in Division I, with an at-large place in the Big Dance, and N.Y.U. in Division III. N.Y.U. won the national title in Division III by ending Smith College’s 16-game winning streak, 51-41.

“We kind of pulled away in the end, and one of the officials congratulated me on winning,” said Meg Barber, the coach of the N.Y.U. team. “This was probably with about 45 seconds left. I said, ‘Not yet.’ I was like, ‘It’s not over yet,’ and he was like, ‘Yes it is.’”

And next season?

“I’ve barely processed that we won the national championship,” Barber told me on Thursday, “so I haven’t really thought about next year.”

Columbia’s season ended on Wednesday with a 72-68 loss to Vanderbilt in a play-in game preceding the first round of the N.C.A.A. Division I tournament.

When I asked Sabreena Merchant, who covers women’s basketball, for an assessment, she said Columbia had been outplayed. The game was one of the rare occasions this season when Abbey Hsu, Columbia’s star senior guard, wasn’t the best player on the court.

“The first thing you think of with Abbey is shooting,” Merchant said. “She uncharacteristically missed a few free throws. For her to go 2 of 11 on 3s and miss three free throws is surprising.” Hsu is the Ivy League’s top career scorer on 3-pointers, with 375.

Columbia has had less experience playing teams like Vanderbilt that have long postseason histories — this was, after all, Columbia’s first appearance in the tournament. “You could tell the athletic advantage that Vanderbilt had over Columbia,” Merchant told me. “As well as Abbey Hsu has done in Ivy League games, there was a different level of defense that she was facing against Vanderbilt — and her game didn’t elevate as had been hoped, or as Princeton does when they get in these situations.” Princeton, which beat Columbia to win the Ivy League title last week, will play West Virginia in the first round of the tournament on Saturday.

Even if Hsu had an off night against Vanderbilt, she has had a remarkable career playing for Columbia. She holds Columbia’s career scoring record in basketball, men’s or women’s, with 2,126 points.

She also has a remarkable personal story. She tore the anterior cruciate ligament in her right knee when she was a junior in high school.

A couple of weeks later, when she heard popping noises from an adjacent building at the school and the teacher directed her class to leave, she was on crutches. She worked her way down the stairs and out of the school — Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., where the deadliest mass shooting at a high school in American history was unfolding.

Her first season at Columbia was interrupted by the pandemic, and her father, a physician, died from complications related to Covid-19.

Still, Hsu has been Columbia’s defining player in women’s basketball under the coach, Megan Griffith, who arrived in 2016. Before Hsu joined the team, Columbia had won 31 percent of its games and 26 percent of its Ivy League games. Since then, the team has won 80 percent of its games.


Weather

Enjoy a sunny day in the mid-40s. In the evening, prepare for a chance of rain with temperatures in the upper 30s.

ALTERNATE-SIDE PARKING

In effect until Sunday (Purim).



Steven A. Cohen, the hedge fund billionaire who bought the Mets three and a half years ago, is putting more money into Queens — a $116.2 million grant to LaGuardia Community College for a work force training center.

A BIG YEAR FOR WOMEN’S COLLEGE BASKETBALL IN NEW YORK

But his wife, Alexandra Cohen, gets the credit for the vision behind the grant, for a 160,000-square-foot vocational training facility, said Kenneth Adams, the president of LaGuardia.

“This is 100 percent Alex,” Adams said. “It isn’t just that it increases our instructional space by 25 percent, which it does, it’s that it’s geared to Alex’s vision of career and technical education.”

LaGuardia officials said the grant, from the Steven & Alexandra Cohen Foundation, was the largest ever awarded to a community college. Adams said it would pay for the construction of 67 classrooms, enough to add 6,000 students to LaGuardia’s enrollment. LaGuardia will use the space to train students hoping to earn associate degrees, industry certifications and other credentials.

“I wanted to create a place where students have access to high-quality programs and facilities and can learn the skills they need to succeed in a rapidly changing world,” Alexandra Cohen said in a statement. LaGuardia said the center, to be called the Cohen Career Collective, would be the largest career and technical facility of its kind in the New York region.

Adams said the foundation had given the college a far smaller grant during the pandemic for a training program called Jobs Direct. It was intended to provide short-term vocational training for people from Queens who had lost their jobs in the pandemic. After that, he said, Alexandra Cohen “made it clear she wanted to do something else.”

“Alex was born in Harlem, she grew up in Washington Heights, and she really identifies with our students” — many of whom are foreign-born, working-class students and the first in their families to go to college, Adams said.

Félix Matos-Rodríguez, the chancellor of the City University of New York, said the grant would multiply LaGuardia’s standing “as an engine of upward mobility.”

The center will offer language classes for foreign-born students who need to improve their English before taking vocational programs. It will also offer high school equivalency classes for students who want to earn a G.E.D.

Adams said the new center would occupy two floors in a former bakery overlooking the Sunnyside Yards railroad depot.

“We’re getting more and more requests to train students for green jobs, in particular solar panel installation and maintenance,” Adams said. “We don’t have, today, any classrooms equipped to teach that. We will.” He also said the center would let LaGuardia provide courses in energy retrofitting — entry-level electrical jobs with contractors. Some of the laboratories can be used to teach courses involving cloud computing and artificial intelligence.

He said the “basically 1980s-level classrooms” used for LaGuardia’s nursing programs would also be upgraded. The center can also provide space for classes to train students for jobs in the hospitality industry.

“All of these programs are driven by labor dynamics and employer needs,” he said.

The Cohens’ foundation has provided more than $1.2 billion to nonprofit groups since 2001, including more than $185 million in Queens. Separately, Cohen is bidding with Hard Rock for a casino next to Citi Field, where the Mets play.


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