Though the women’s basketball team is facing an opponent it’s never seen before, not all of the Quakers are going into uncharted territory.
Penn may be taking on LIU-Brooklyn this Sunday for the first time in school history, but for junior Alyssa Baron, the meeting will bring back some high school nostalgia.
Baron spent time playing with and against two of the Blackbirds during her formative years in Miami.
Baron teamed up with LIU-Brooklyn senior Tamika Guz and junior Cleandra Roberts on her AAU team, while facing them as an opponent on her high school team.
While Baron spent her high school days at Gulliver Prep, Guz and Roberts were key contributors on a powerhouse Miami Norland squad.
“They were always the top high school in Miami,” Baron said. “Cleandra was a guard, so I’ve always had to either cover her or when we played together, we played similar positions, and I’m excited to play against them again.”
Both squads are working toward getting over the .500 hump. Currently at 3-3, Penn hasn’t cracked that magic barrier all season, while the 3-4 Blackbirds haven’t been above water since a season-opening 53-42 win over Columbia.
“It’ll definitely be a good matchup between two teams that are looking for wins,” Baron said.
Penn and LIU-Brooklyn have similar offensive firepower, scoring about 59 points per game, portending a close contest.
A nail-biter won’t be anything new for the Quakers. All of Penn’s games have been determined by single digits.
But the Blackbirds have faced leadership troubles after losing five seniors, including Ashley Palmer, who held the team’s program record with 2,044 career points. Their main challenge this season has been improving team chemistry and finding someone to step up and fill the void left by Palmer.
“We’re trying to play together as one team,” Guz said.
But they’ll be ready for the Quakers and know what to expect from current Big 5 Player of the Week Baron.
“We have to play her honest because she can shoot and guard and she’s very smart,” Roberts said. “We just have to play great defense and keep her off the board and try to stop her from scoring.”
Roberts remembers a particularly tough game when Baron was a big obstacle in Miami Norland’s path to an undefeated season.
“She was just shooting threes out of everywhere,” Roberts said. “We couldn’t follow her and sometimes we didn’t have an answer. But at the end we recuperated.
“We always had to find out where she was and we never can take our eyes off of her.”
Baron has only gotten to be a stronger scorer since her high school days. While three-pointers were her biggest threat, she’s become a more athletic player, as shown in her game-winning drive against St. Francis.
As the Quakers gear up for the matchup, Baron’s high school reunion means that she’ll be entering the court with an even bigger target on her back than usual.