Many words have been used to describe Sydney Stipanovich.
Dominant. Outgoing . Spectacular.
But most of all, the freshman center has been a revelation for the Penn women’s basketball team as she has emerged as a star upon which the Quakers can rely.
“She’s had a huge impact for us on both ends of the floor. She can score from a multitude of areas and you can run offense through her,” coach Mike McLaughlin said. “On the defensive end, her ability to change shots and move laterally and play this game without fouling.”
Considering her upbringing, this shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise.
“Starting from a young age, my uncle was one of my first coaches and I played with my cousin, Sadie, when I was younger,” Stipanovich said. “But the biggest impact has come from my dad, we would always go to the gym together. Basketball is a big topic in our family.”
And while the story of growing up playing basketball with family members may seem like a common one, few players can say that their uncle played in the NBA — as Stipanovich’s uncle Steve Stipanovich did. Even fewer can add that their cousin is in a similar role at another Division I school — as freshman center Sadie Stipanovich is for St. Louis University.
However, like all young players making the transition to college ball, there is a bit of an adjustment period.
“The biggest change has just been the pace of the game,” Stipanovich said. “The players are bigger and more skilled, and the competition is tougher. The coaches have helped a lot, coming in not knowing what to expect.”
Stipanovich began the season playing significant minutes off the bench, and though effective still showed many signs of inexperience. She would find herself slightly late on a rotation or out of position for a rebound. Yet, as the season has progressed, all that has changed.
The reasons behind her development? Coach McLaughlin believes it all came down to getting comfortable in the system.
“She’s very comfortable with her teammates now and very selfless,” McLaughlin said. “It came very quickly for a young player. She’s very coachable, all the intangibles are there.”
The results have been impressive. Midway through the season, Stipanovich began to show what she was truly capable of, earning Ivy League Rookie of the Week honors after her 17-point, seven-rebound performance against Army.
McLaughlin has utilized the freshman center alongside veteran forwards Kara Bonenberger and Katy Allen to create a dominant inside offense. The most notable performances for Stipanovich have come in the past two weeks. In the four games since she claimed a spot in the starting lineup, she is averaging 13.8 points, 10.3 rebounds and 6.0 blocks per game.
Though many would like to focus on her offensive skill set, it’s clear that Stipanovich’s defense has made more of an impact this season. The freshman set the Penn single-game record for blocks twice within a week’s span, blocking eight shots against NJIT and then breaking her own record with nine against Harvard.
To put that into perspective, Stipanovich blocked more shots in those two games than all but four players in the Ivies have in the entire season thus far.
The latter of those games helped the freshman center earn her third Ivy Player of the Week award, a feat that no freshman in the history of the Ivy League has achieved. And all of this from someone who is just as great a teammate as she is a competitor.
“She’s made a huge impact as a person. She’s very committed, always works on her game,” McLaughlin said. “She’s a great teammate and extremely coachable.”
And to think that this is still just the first year of what could shape up to be an incredible Penn career for Stipanovich. She already seems poised to break the single-season blocks record, which is a mere 11 blocks away with 11 games remaining.
With so much potential and such success early on, the sky is truly the limit for the headliner of an impactful freshman class for Penn women’s basketball.