When Penn women’s basketball’s current senior class joined the program, coach Mike McLaughlin’s squad seemed in sorry shape, having won just two games the year before.
But now the Quakers stand in first place, tied with Princeton and just three games away from a possible Ivy League title.
On Friday and Saturday, the Red and Blue (19-6, 9-2 Ivy) will host Columbia and Cornell, the latter of which will be Senior Night, before finishing their regular season against the Tigers (18-7, 9-2) on Tuesday night.
All in all, it seems like a pretty exciting way for seniors Alyssa Baron, Kristen Kody, Meghan McCullough and Courtney Wilson to finish out their respective careers.
“We just know that it is a huge weekend for us,” Baron said. “Definitely an emotional weekend with it being senior weekend and the last two home games for the four seniors. We’ve just been through so much, some ups and downs, through our career, and it is just a great ending to it.”
“It is a full circle for them,” McLaughlin added. “This is a special class. This is the first group I brought in. I asked them to come in and help create a better culture here and they invested in us just by listening to us.”
Penn has both improved its win total and moved up the Ivy standings each of the last four years and after Princeton’s loss to Brown, the team controls its destiny.
Columbia (6-20, 3-9) is Penn’s first roadblock for the weekend. But contrary to their record, the Lions are a formidable opponent, as they are one of only two teams to score more than 60 points against Penn in Ivy play.
“We had a battle with them up there [at Columbia],” McLaughlin said. “We pulled away later in the second half but it was a very close game. They are greatly improved and well coached.”
The Big Red (14-12, 6-6) follow the Light Blue, coming into the Palestra on Senior Night. In its first matchup with Penn, Cornell shot the lights out in the first half, making 50 percent of its shots, but the Big Red were bested by Penn’s defense and Baron’s game-high 28 points.
“Cornell is always tough,” McLaughlin said. “They are really well coached as well.
“Both [Columbia and Cornell] will be a battle.”
The absence of junior forward Katy Allen (out for the season with a foot injury) will make the final three games even tougher, but the Quakers are ready to utilize freshman forward Stephanie Cheney and the rest of their frontcourt to make up for the loss.
“I think [Stephanie] is ready to play now,” McLaughlin said. “She has really improved since the beginning of the year. She’ll be in our rotation.
“We’ll fill [Allen’s minutes] all different ways, moving a couple of the [forwards] around.”
If the Quakers win their two home games, they will go into their matchup with the Tigers at least tied for first and guaranteed of a bid into either the NCAA Tournament or Women’s National Invitation Tournament.
So the Red and Blue aren’t looking past any of their opponents, trying to give themselves the chance to win the Ivy title for the first time in 2004.
“We’re taking it the same way as we have all the games, knowing that, in the Ivy League, every game is a championship game,” Baron said. “These games are no different and we just need to get wins in all of them.”