For most of its history, Columbia women’s basketball has been a weak program, with a winning percentage of 0.344. But in many ways, the 2010s was its best decade in its 33-year experience in Division I, as Columbia kicked off the decade with its first-ever winning season and concluded it with its second. Yet at the same time, the Lions continued to struggle throughout their decade on the court, hitting the bottom in conference standings five times and taking second to last three times. The team’s average conference win total in the decade was just 3.8 games out of the 14 total games played against Ivy League opponents each season.
The team has had four coaches in the 10-year period. Paul Nixon led the team into the decade with an 18-10 season but failed to keep up the pace after the departure of forward Judie Lomax, BC ’10, who was Player of the Year during the 2009-2010 season. Nixon’s persisting presence on the sidelines was strongly criticized, and viewers argued that it was “dangerous to let a coach continue to float on previous successes.” Nixon was fired after the 2012-2013 season, during which the team suffered a massive 98-36 loss to Princeton.
Stephanie Glance coached during the 2013-2014 season, and the Lions continued to deteriorate, putting out a 2-11 record. Sheila Roux, who took over in 2014-2015, did one worse, as the team ended 1-13 under her leadership. As a result, current head coach Megan Griffith was hired in 2015.
Nixon personally recruited some strong players despite his late inability to win. His best was Lomax, whom he convinced to transfer from Oregon State. Following his departure, Glance’s best was forward Camille Zimmerman, CC ’18, who signed with the Minnesota Lynx WNBA team and now plays overseas in Finland.
As a player under Nixon, Griffith was one of the best in Columbia history. As an assistant at Princeton University, her Tigers team humiliated the Lions in 2012-2013. And as a coach at Columbia, she brought only the second winning season to Columbia in 2019-20. Griffith gained her prowess in recruitment at Princeton and has already recruited talented sophomore guard/forward Sienna Durr and first-year guard Abbey Hsu—the young duo that led the Lions to their first playoff berth in history in 2020 and that Griffith hopes will lead the Lions to their first Ivy League title.
However, the Light Blue will have to wait until the 2020-2021 season to see whether it remains competitive in postseason competition as this year’s Ivy Madness was canceled due to COVID-19 concerns.
Camille Zimmerman, CC ’18, forward
Camille Zimmerman, CC ’18, notched six Ivy League Rookie of the Week awards during her first season with the Lions, showing promise for a fantastic college career. However, her performance really kicked off when head coach Megan Griffith took the reins during Zimmerman’s junior season. Zimmerman was the team’s undisputed authority on the court that year, leading the Light Blue in points, rebounds, assists, blocks and steals. She averaged 22.5 points, the most in the Ivy League, and earned a unanimous vote to the All-Ivy first team. She continued her success during her senior season, averaging a double-double 19.5 points and 10.2 rebounds and earning her a second first-team honor. However, due to the lack of team success in those two seasons, in which the Lions combined for just five Ivy play victories, Zimmerman was unable to win the league MVP for herself.
Zimmerman’s 1,973 points and 940 rebounds in four seasons are the most in program history. She signed with the Minnesota Lynx after her graduation but unfortunately never played on the WNBA floor, instead finding her zone in Finland. She has helped her current team to a 21-4 record this season, the best in its league, and averages 17.7 points and 10 rebounds.
Judie Lomax, BC ’10, forward
Judie Lomax, BC ’10, was a transfer from Oregon State and dominated the Ivy League under then-head coach Paul Nixon. Lomax led the team to an 18-10 record her senior year, which still stands as the best in program history. She is also the only female player in NCAA history to lead the nation in rebounding for two consecutive years—the years during which she played for the Lions. To add to her incredible performance, she became the only Ivy League Player of the Year for the Lions after the 2010 season. She ended her Light Blue career with a phenomenal weekend during which she scored over 20 points and grabbed over 20 rebounds in two games. In 2016, Lomax was inducted into the Columbia Athletics Hall of Fame.
Lomax also tried her luck at the professional level after graduation. She signed a training camp contract with the Connecticut Sun, a WNBA team, but was waived. Her overseas career featured stops in Finland and Germany, where she averaged 15.6 points and 10.2 rebounds for her team Eisvogel USC Freiburg during the 2011-2012 season. She later continued her academic career at Loyola University of Maryland where she earned her Psy.D., and now works as a clinical psychologist in Silver Spring, Maryland.
Sienna Durr, CC ’22, forward
Sophomore Sienna Durr took Zimmerman’s jersey number after the latter’s graduation. While Griffith has said that Durr has shown flashes of Zimmerman many times on the floor, they are very different players: Durr is more physically strong, while Zimmerman is more skilled. Durr has made a name for herself since the start of her career, earning six Rookie of the Week awards and topping them with the only Rookie of the Year award in Columbia history. She also holds the record for rookie scoring. In many regards, she has already surpassed Zimmerman, but still needs to hit the level Zimmerman did in her junior season. There are many unknowns for the young forward going into her final two seasons with the Light Blue.
Abbey Hsu, CC ’23, guard
Griffith’s successful recruitment brought another strong rookie after Durr: First-year Abbey Hsu, who has bagged five Rookie of the Week awards over the past season. She was scorching hot at the start of Ivy play, finishing with double-digit scoring in nine consecutive games, including a 31-point night against Harvard during which she drained six threes. During the second half of the season, other schools caught on Hsu’s prowess on the court and she began getting targeted by defensive players, and eventually lost steam, scoring just 2 points in her final duel with eventual Rookie of the Year Kayla Padilla of Penn. However, Hsu, along with Durr, aims to win an Ivy title under the leadership of Griffith.
Sara Yee, SEAS ’10, guard
Unlike the previous four players, Yee did not have stellar scoring stats, but the 5-foot-1 point guard fits perfectly on this team in feeding them the ball. During her senior season, Yee was nationally ranked sixth in assist-to-turnover ratios. Her ratio was 2.6 as she averaged three assists per game. Despite her height, she won two consecutive Defensive Player of the Year awards during her junior and senior years with an average turnover of 4.1. During the 2010 season, the Lions limited opponents to an average of 60.8 points per game, putting together their best defense of the decade with Yee’s help. She and Hsu—whose perimeter defense helped the Lions contain their opponents’ three-point shooting percentage to just 0.294 over the 2019-2020 season—would make this all-decade team unbearable for opposing guards.
Head coach Megan Griffith’s leadership as a coach was visible even when she took over the Light Blue’s captaincy as a sophomore player.
She ranks No. 8 on the Light Blue’s all-time scoring list with 1,061 points and No. 5 on the assist list with 373 assists. Having been inducted into the Columbia Hall of Fame, Griffith is one of the best players in Lions’ history and perhaps the best guard of the 21st century. During her junior season, her first under coach Paul Nixon, Griffith—then No. 22 in the nation—led the Light Blue with 15.2 points and 5.5 assists. However, her playing career wasn’t ornamented with wins: Her first two seasons were mediocre—both reaching 12 wins—but her final two seasons with Nixon were rather disappointing as the Lions won only 14 games in the two seasons combined.
These results must have been distasteful to a young Griffith, who at that point was one of the hardest workers on the team. Nixon recalled that Griffith was a gym dweller, always staying late after practice to play one-on-ones with assistant coaches or male practice players. Even now, Griffith challenges her own players to weekly intense workouts in which she also participates. Whenever asked about her plans for facing a tough opponent, she and her Lions are always proud to say that their practices are much harder than the actual games.
“I’ve never seen her tired or not working hard,” guard Janiya Clemmons, CC ʼ20, said. “She’s just someone that showed me what toughness and resilience was.”
When Griffith paces up and down the sideline, observers can see her figure radiating blazing energy. She is an emotional coach. Upon receiving an unfavorable call, Griffith would be seen shouting at the referees or encouraging her players: “Nice block, Si,” she said after sophomore forward Sienna Durr had just been charged with a shooting foul. Griffith would throw her clipboard onto the ground many times when the team failed her command, particularly on defense, even if the Lions were up double digits.
Griffith never hides her true feelings from her team since she knows that she’s here to build a championship culture and that requires constant self-evaluation and dissatisfaction with the current state.
“You don’t think Penn has midterms this week? You don’t think Princeton’s, somebody in their family passed away this week? Like everybody’s got their own stuff, and it’s about who handles it the best, and the excuse can’t be ‘We haven’t been there,’” Griffith said after the team dropped two crucial fixtures last season.
After someone complained that Princeton’s 6-foot-4 Bella Alarie, is simply too tall, Griffith shouted, “Put me in the game, I’m 5′5″ and I’ll guard anybody that’s 6′10″; doesn’t matter to me.”
After graduating from Columbia, she gave up a job offer from Lincoln Financial Group and started earning just 1,000 euros a month playing professionally in Finland, where she led her team to a National Finnish Championship title. Her own experience playing overseas made her a great mentor to players like Zimmerman, who now follows in her footsteps, playing in the Finnish League.
Griffith then discovered her passion for coaching and teaching young players, returning to the United States to work for Princeton. In her six years with the Tigers, her team won five Ivy League titles, posting an impressive 54-7 record, including a 30-0 undefeated 2014-2015 season. Her experience in the recruitment process was unmatched: The Tigers had 13 all-league players, including Blake Dietrick, the 2015 Ivy League Player of the Year, and she was central in getting projected WNBA lottery pick Bella Alarie, three-time Ivy League player of the year.
Perhaps the biggest challenge to the Lions over the last few seasons was Griffith’s own success at Princeton. She likes to joke about her link to Princeton’s dominance.
“I was there. I built that thing with them. And to me, we’ve got to do more. Doesn’t mean we’ve got to work more; it means we’ve got to be smarter, we’ve got to dig our heels, and be more disciplined. That’s the ‘more’ we need: the more focus,” Griffith said after a victory against Dartmouth this season, still focusing on what the Lions needed to do better.
Her training at Princeton has started to pay off for her alma mater this past season. With two consecutive strong recruits in Durr and Hsu, Griffith led Columbia to a 17-10 season, just one game shy of Nixon’s 2009-2010 season record. If not for the COVID-19 pandemic, her team would’ve gotten a great chance to demonstrate its hard work in the past seasons in the team’s first-ever Ivy League tournament.
“Princeton is the past,” Griffith said. “We are the future of this league.”
If she was open, she scored. First-year Abbey Hsu shot 11 of 15 from the field and six of nine beyond the arc that night and scored 31 points, putting the rookie just one point shy of entering the top 10 scoring performances in Lions’ history. In a league that has an average team scoring in the mid-60s, a 30-point game is roughly equivalent to scoring 50 in the NBA. In fact, Hsu’s 31 points were almost half of Harvard’s 64.
But it wasn’t merely an individual performance. The Light Blue shot 57 percent from the field that game while limiting the Crimson’s shooting to 35 percent. Durr added to Hsu’s mega-night with 20 points on 7-of-11 shooting, and the Lions’ point guard combo of first-year Carly Rivera and sophomore Mikayla Markham dished out a total of 12 dimes. The beautiful part of this victory lies in the team’s collective effort. When Hsu hit the rookie wall at the end of the season, Griffith remarked that it wasn’t Hsu’s lack of scoring that was costing the team the win, but rather that nobody else had stepped up.
It was a statement win—the trigger of the three consecutive weekend sweeps last season. Before coming into the game, most people had doubts, including the coaches and players. Everyone knew it would be a tough matchup since the Light Blue had just come off of a 22-point defeat to Princeton and an ugly, sloppy win against Dartmouth, while Harvard was 5 and 2 in conference play at the time. Columbia’s 3-4 record in the conference was a sign of the team’s inconsistency. The Lions seemed to be still trying to find their own identity.
However, Columbia went away with the game early on. A 13-point run at the end of the first quarter and the beginning of the second quarter gave the Lions a 13-point lead, which was then doubled to 26 by the half. After the game, Columbia established itself as an unshakable top four team, while Harvard went into a slump, losing another four games in a row.
Hsu also used this opportunity to lift herself above Harvard’s rookie Lola Mullaney, who, before the game, was in good form racing for the Rookie of the Year award. Yet her 4-of-17 performance that night was in sharp contrast to Hsu’s dominance, and Mullaney never seemed to regain her efficient shooting after the matchup. At the end of the season, Mullaney managed to squeeze onto the All-Ivy honorable mentions list and Hsu settled herself on the second-team All-Ivy.
Senior captain and guard Clemmons reflected that this past season was her favorite, and although she missed the Harvard game due to her having the flu, it made an imprint on her mind.
Griffith saw the game as a new beginning.
“Our youth has not just stayed with us and hung around. … I feel like with this team, they’re growing up right before us, and this [game] is a really positive step,” Griffith said. “This is where we are at, and be with it, keep up with that same level of intensity.”