Underclassmen made crucial difference this year for women's hoops

Freshman stepped up with big minutes, impact in up and down season

· March 14, 2012, 12:15 am   ·  Updated March 16, 2012, 12:31 am

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Looking at the game notes from the Penn women’s basketball season, it’s hard not to do a double take.

While most Ivy teams start a freshman and include another one in their rotation, Penn had three rookies on the court for tipoff regularly.

Even the Quakers finished at 13-15, their best record since the 2004-2005 season. They can attribute a large part of their success to a group of freshmen that made instant — and long-lasting — contributions.

Four rookies were among the top six players in minutes for Penn this past season: guards Renee Busch and Jackie Kates and forwards Katy Allen and Kara Bonenberger. The four freshmen had 62 starts combined, and Bonenberger was second on the team with an average of 26 minutes played per game.

The significant playing time was somewhat unexpected for the fresmen.

“To have any minutes as a freshman is great,” said Kates, who took over as primary point guard during the Ivy season. “When I [began] starting, that was even cooler.”

Bonenberger in particular has made a major impact for the Red and Blue this season, especially in the absence of senior forward Jess Knapp, who was injured for much of the year. She led all Ivy rookies with 8.4 points per game and led the team in rebounding.

Penn coach Mike McLaughlin has certainly not been shy about trusting his freshmen. Last season, then-freshman Alyssa Baron led the Quakers in minutes, scoring and assists en route to Ivy Rookie of the Year honors.

Allen said Penn’s young squad had grown more comfortable with each other on the court by the end of the season. The team finished 4-2 in its last six games, including a road Ivy sweep over Yale and Brown.

“Playing more every game, I think it got a little bit easier trusting people more and knowing their tendencies,” Allen said.

Kates said the Yale game epitomized the Quakers’ ability to “run a clean offense,” a direct result of their increased familiarity.

The freshmen’s on-court chemistry is directly related with their cohesion off the court.

“I think it’s really rare to find a team that gets along as well as we do,” Kates said. “It’s amazing that we don’t fight or that there aren’t really problems.”

The Quakers’ veteran leadership played an integral role in getting the freshmen up to speed as well.

“Sometime it’s probably a little frustrating for [the older players] to have to go slower for us,” Allen said. “But they’re really good at always staying positive.”

“They demand the best out of all the underclassmen,” Kates added.

After finishing up the season last Tuesday, Allen reflected on the progress the team had made by the end of the season.

“We experienced some wins that the previous classes had before, but we also had some tough losses,” she said. “That makes us even stronger.”

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