If a current trend continues, the Penn women’s basketball team is on pace for a perfect 28-0 season in three years.
The Quakers have improved their record by an average of five and a half games per season since Mike McLaughlin took over, from 2-26 three years ago to 13-15 last season.
Friday night, Penn opens its season at Norfolk State. The Quakers return 11 players, including junior Alyssa Baron and sophomore Kara Bonenberger — the two reigning Big 5 Rookies of the Year.
“We’re ready to go,” McLaughlin said .
The Red and Blue are looking to secure their first winning season since 2004-05. Improvement must begin on the offensive side, where they ranked No. 310 of 336 nationally in field goal percentage and No. 224 of 241 in three-point percentage a year ago.
“It’s getting easier baskets instead of setting up in our halfcourt and having to run against a setup defense,” Baron said. “It’s pushing the ball in transition and being able to get easier shots.”
Defense has been the strong suit of past McLaughlin-led teams. Last year, opponents averaged 57.5 points per game, the second-best mark in the Ancient Eight.
With a schedule featuring two preseason top-25 teams in Virginia and Ivy foe Princeton, the Quakers have a difficult road ahead.
“Right now Princeton is a huge challenge for us and our league,” McLaughlin stated. “They are really good, so that’s a challenge. Those are the two most difficult games on our schedule.”
The City 6 has also haunted the Quakers under McLaughlin, under whom Penn is a combined 2-13 against Villanova, Temple, St. Joseph’s, La Salle and Drexel. Hosting four of the five contests — the lone road game coming down the street at Drexel — should give the Red and Blue an edge.
“It’s tough because the Big 5 teams are very good, and put Drexel in the mix as well,” McLaughlin said.
While the goal is always an Ivy League championship, the toughest task for the Quakers is Princeton, which has won the last three league titles. The Ivy slate begins against the Tigers on Jan. 12 and ends against them on March 12 at the Palestra.
The Quakers will need offensive production from players not named Bonenberger or Baron to be successful. Only five times last season did another player lead the team in scoring.
“Who is going to be our third and our fourth consistent scorer? I think we have some pieces,” McLaughlin said.
For the second consecutive season, an Ivy League preseason media poll picked the Red and Blue to finish fourth. With so much returning talent and potential to improve even more, all eyes will be on the Quakers to see if their upward trend can continue.
Baron predicts it will.
“I think this year will be the year,” she said.