March Gladness Trumps Mideast Madness

This article was first published as “For Bay Area duo, March gladness trumps Mideast madness” in JWeekly.

Niveen Rasheed (left) and Lauren Polansky (RJ Gleason photography)

Princeton University women’s basketball star Lauren Polansky is a Jewish 21-year-old from Mill Valley. Her teammate, Niveen Rasheed, the Tigers’ leading scorer and rebounder this season, grew up in Danville, the daughter of Palestinian parents from the West Bank; her sister is a diplomat for the Palestinians at the United Nations.

But as longtime friends and teammates — they began playing together on a high-level Bay Area club team in 2008 — Polansky and Rasheed find it easy to stay focused on what they have in common, rather than on the differences that reporters and fans occasionally want to discuss.

That’s especially true right now, as Princeton gears up for its third straight trip into the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament, otherwise known as March Madness. The Tigers, who are riding a 17-game win streak and finished the regular season with a 24-4 record, secured an automatic berth in the tournament by winning their third straight Ivy League title; they’ll play Kansas State in the first round on Saturday, March 17. The game, which starts at 8:20 a.m. (PST), will be broadcast on ESPN.

For Polansky and Rasheed, juniors who have been starters in all three of their seasons on the team, making a third straight postseason appearance is another exciting phase of a journey that they began together more than four years ago — when, during the summer before their senior year of high school, they played AAU basketball for the East Bay Xplosion.

Polansky played her high school ball for the Branson School, a small college prep school in Ross (Marin County), which won state titles in the small-school division during her sophomore and junior years. In 2009, she was enshrined in the Northern California Jewish Sports Hall of Fame’s second student class. Rasheed played for Monte Vista High in Danville.

They knew each other through the basketball grapevine, but it was their time as teammates on the Xplosion that cemented their friendship.

Rasheed, who had originally not even considered applying to an Ivy League school, ended up following her friend to Princeton.

Click here to read more.

© 2012 Renee Ghert-Zand. All rights reserved.

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