Princeton People: Courtney Banghart, on and off the Court

Princeton University Women's Basketball Coach Courtney Banghart. Photo courtesy of Princeton Athletics Communications.
Princeton University Women’s Basketball Coach Courtney Banghart. Photo courtesy of Princeton Athletics Communications.

Courtney Banghart has hitchhiked through Alaska, taught high school biology, bungee-jumped in Switzerland, and just finished reading “American Sniper.”

She is also currently the coach of the only undefeated team in the NCAA Women’s Basketball League right now: Princeton.

“Princeton’s a place I just believe in to my very core,” Banghart said. “It’s a place where I think I’m having a positive impact and I know that this place is having a positive impact on me.”

Banghart has been the head coach at Princeton for eight years and feels that Princeton is the right place for her to be.

“This experience at Princeton is a dream. It’s a dream come true,” she said. “It’s just been a really great fit.”

Banghart grew up in Amherst, New Hampshire, where she won a total of 12 state championships in three different high school sports: tennis, soccer and, of course, basketball. She then attended Dartmouth College, where she earned her undergraduate degree in neuroscience, taught and coached at Episcopal High School in Alexandria, Va., and returned to Dartmouth to get a master’s degree in leadership development. Then came Princeton.

Banghart describes her coaching style as “relational” in regard to her interactions with the players and the game.

“If I’m not getting the result then I haven’t taught it right,” she said. “I relate to them and their experience and their need to get better really personally. I’m a relational teacher. I’m about teaching the game. If I can teach it right, then we’re going to get really good here.”

Amanda Berntsen, a junior on the basketball team, said that what means the most is Banghart’s care for the team members on and off the court.

“She’s just an unbelievable coach. She genuinely cares about each and every person on this team,” Berntsen said. “I’m so happy I had the chance to come to Princeton and play for her.”

Milena Flores, an assistant coach for the team, has been at Princeton with Banghart for all eight years.

“I think what she does so well is that she’s just incredibly invested in each player. She cares about making each player better and she understands that each player requires a little bit of something different from her,” Flores said. “She’s a teacher. She’s an optimist. She always see the best.”

Though Banghart’s typical week consists of constant basketball practices, daylong trips across the country for recruiting and countless hours planning for the team, she finds time for relaxing, whether it is with a good book or watching basketball for fun.

“I live an active life, but I think balance is key,” she said.

Her favorite hobby is traveling, ranging from hitchhiking and bungee-jumping in far-away worlds to taking a casual trip into New York City to see a show or spend the day. She has sailed around the British Isles, spent time in London and Barcelona, and even took the team to Senegal in 2011.

Banghart attributes her love of traveling to her childhood experiences, and sees its influences on her coaching style.

“We grew up traveling. My parents thought life was to be lived, not watched,” she said. “I like to experience this world. It’s sort of similar to how I coach. I like to be totally present. I like new experiences and I like to dive in.”

While growing up, she had never even really seen herself becoming a coach, Banghart said.

Now, she’s leading one of the best women’s college basketball teams in the nation.

“I’ve been in the Ivy League since 1996 and it’s been like nothing I’ve ever seen,” she said, smiling at the team’s huge success this season.

Banghart may not have seen herself becoming a coach, but now she loves every minute of it.

“Basketball’s just always had my heart,” she said.