As musical notes slowly filled the Palestra, the building came to life.
After an unusually quiet weekend, the first it has had since early January, it was once again bursting with life, laughter, chatter, smiles and high-fives.
The band was playing loudly and as festively as ever, filling the old arena with an exuberant spirit that was once a regular part of the building’s charm, but now has faded. But it was Penn women’s basketball who really wanted to keep the party going.
Just a week ago, it was the music far away at Jadwin Gym that marked nightmares for the Quakers. Losers of eight straight at the building, Jadwin was the demon that they could not conquer.
As the pregame warm ups came to an end, one last song rang out from the speakers, and the Quakers gathered in the paint, arms interlocking, swaying back and forth to the beat.
They came out in sync, took a lead and held it. They came out with a gusto and bravado that has defined their effort in changing the program this year.
They clawed, they fought, they dove for loose balls. They adapted from their usual grind-it-out approach, and quickened their pace, a transition to the third movement of the concerto with a grand finale.
As their tempo quickened and the victory became clearer, a dream started to take form, the dream first dreamt four years ago when four Penn seniors trusted a second-year coach with their college careers.
Fast forward to Monday night, as family, the Penn Band, the cheerleaders and friends gathered around the Ivy trophy to take pictures while music blared over the Palestra’s speakers.
Finally ... a Selection Monday for the Red and the Blue.
“Four years has built up a lot of anticipation for this day, and [I’m] so proud of this team and so happy to have the chance to go to the NCAA Tournament [with] all these fans behind us all the way,” senior captain Alyssa Baron said.
The crowd fell silent. All eyes turned to the brand new scoreboard tuned into ESPN to see where Penn would land in their first tournament in more than ten years.
The Ivy trophy sat on the ground in front of the seats, the last moment to reflect on what this team has accomplished until the end of the season.
First to be announced was the Lincoln Region with no mention of the Quakers.
Next came the Louisville Region and as the upper half of the bracket flashed on the screen, Penn appeared in the upper bracket of that region below Texas, their first round opponent. Down came streamers, right on cue, as if orchestrated by the conductor himself.
It was truly a moment of celebration for all this program has accomplished.
The band started to play. The slippers are on.
It’s time to go dancing.
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