Kara Bonenberger has never been one to turn down a challenge.
Coming into her freshman season at Penn, Bonenberger needed to fill a void at the center position for the women’s basketball team.
She’s excelled in the role with a persevering attitude — an attribute for which she has her older sister Alyssa to thank.
The sisters played together at Northampton Area High School, about an hour and a half north of Philadelphia. Late in Kara’s sophomore year and Alyssa’s junior year, the elder Bonenberger had to come out of a game with an ankle injury.
“[Kara] saw how upset I was and came over to me and said, ‘I’m going to win this game for you,’” Alyssa wrote in an email. “And she did exactly that.”
In the same manner, Kara has performed admirably for the Quakers thus far this season. The four-time Ivy Rookie of the Week is second on the team in scoring and first in rebounding.
“We needed Kara to step in right away, and she has in a big way,” coach Mike McLaughlin said. “I think she’s grown a lot in the process.”
But for Kara to make such an immediate impact — scoring 27 points against Drexel on Dec. 22 in just her eighth collegiate game and her first start — she had to have a certain amount of grit, much of which came from her sister.
“The biggest impact I had on her was to get her tough,” wrote Alyssa, currently a sophomore on Division II Kutztown’s basketball squad. “I would always push her around to try to make her stronger and better.”
This tough love causes their relationship to be “a bit of a roller coaster,” Alyssa wrote.
“Most of the time we are best friends, but then there are those days when we don’t even want to see each other.”
For Kara, the good days far outnumber the bad.
“She’s tough on me, always pushing me,” Kara said. “But I love her to death.”
The crests and troughs of their relationship were encapsulated in one particular high school game, when the Northampton Konkrete Kids were losing going into halftime.
“I saw [Kara] hanging her head, so I went over to her and told her to keep her head up and stop messing around out there,” Alyssa wrote. “She started to cry and walked away.”
But once the second half began, Kara revealed that inner toughness.
“She played like nothing could stop her,” Alyssa wrote. “And that’s why we won the game.”
Don’t expect to see Kara crying on the court today if the Quakers are losing a game at halftime.
Expect her to buckle down and accept the challenge.