A ll it takes is one week to change everything.
On Feb. 22, Penn women’s basketball suffered its most disappointing defeat in coach Mike McLaughlin’s tenure as coach, surrendering its tie for first place in the Ivy League by losing to last-place Dartmouth.
And as Penn lost, Princeton, the four-time defending Ivy champions, took a stranglehold on first place by coming back to defeat Harvard. After that win, it seemed as if the Tigers were going to waltz their way to another Ivy title and NCAA Tournament appearance.
But a funny thing happened just a week later.
Penn took care of business, sweeping Brown and Yale on the road behind some solid play from juniors Kara Bonenberger and Kathleen Roche .
And Princeton lost.
Brown defeated the Tigers for the first time since 2006, marking the first Princeton loss in Ivy play to a non-Harvard squad since 2009.
Now, the playing field is officially even, with Penn and Princeton each tied for the top spot in the Ancient Eight at 9-2.
So starting on Friday, Penn and Princeton will each play Cornell and Columbia before playing a winner-takes-all duel for the Ivy title, assuming neither slips up against the Big Red or Light Blue.
Bet you didn’t expect this last week.
But what makes this iteration of McLaughlin’s Red and Blue squad special is that it wasn’t about to give up after a single loss.
“We’re not out of this, and our kids are resilient,” McLaughlin said following the Dartmouth defeat. “They’ll bounce back.”
Resiliency is important for any team in any sport if you want to compete for a championship, and Penn’s ability to respond in the face of adversity gives any fan hope that the Quakers can come out on top.
When the Red and Blue lost their first two games of the year and had last year’s starting point guard - sophomore Keiera Ray - out for an extended period, all they did was reel off a program-record eight straight nonconference wins behind the steady ball-handling of senior point guard Meghan McCullough .
And when that gave way to a three-game losing streak which started at the hands of Princeton, the Quakers bounced back again, winning nine straight games until they arrived in Hanover, N.H. to face Dartmouth.
So it should come as little surprise that the Quakers came out of that loss to the Big Green with a new focus and have already made the leap back into first place.
That’s not to say that dethroning the four-time defending Ancient Eight champs will be easy. Princeton has shown the same ability to recover from losses and it would be foolish to think that coach Courtney Banghart won’t refocus her squad this week.
While Penn has looked solid week by week in Ivy play, the Tigers have looked dominant. They have four conference road wins by at least 22 points, including that 31-point clobbering of the Red and Blue on Jan. 11.
And Penn is far from finished when it comes to overcoming adversity. In fact, with junior forward Katy Allen suffering a season-ending foot injury, Penn will have to face its biggest test - a rematch with Princeton - without one of its main stalwarts from its strong frontcourt.
Yet if this season has taught us anything, it’s that the Quakers can’t be counted out, especially when things seemed stacked against them.
So when the ball is tipped in one week at Jadwin Gymnasium in what may be the de facto Ivy title game, Princeton will go in as the heavy favorite .
But, as this past week has displayed very clearly, the Ivy League is anything but predictable and McLaughlin’s squad will be ready for its biggest opportunity yet.
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