Legendary college basketball coach John Wooden once said, “The main ingredient of stardom is the rest of the team.”
And on the heels of the announcement that Penn women’s basketball’s two stars, senior captain Alyssa Baron and freshman center Sydney Stipanovich, swept the Ivy League’s individual awards, Wooden’s quote is especially poignant.
Over the past four years, every opposing team the Quakers faced knew it needed to focus in on Baron, the Ivy League’s Player of the Year. Baron has led the Red and Blue in scoring, racking up 1,781 points, which is good for second all-time in program history and ninth in Ivy League history.
But scoring is just one part of Baron’s star power. The senior has shown the ability to take over a game in many ways, whether it’s via her passing ability (3.4 assists this season), her ball-hawking defensive intensity (1.7 steals per game) or her overall leadership after serving as one of Penn’s captains each of the last two years.
The addition of Stipanovich, the Ancient Eight’s Rookie and Defensive Player of the Year, helped the Quakers go from good to great, adding a game-changing post presence. Stipanovich’s racked up more blocks than six Ivy teams had in total, helping Penn gain post superiority over almost every team it faced.
"I don't know if a freshman has impacted the league the way she has on both ends of the court," coach Mike McLaughlin said after his squad took down Princeton on Tuesday. "I want to say that because she was the final piece.
"Alyssa kept saying we need one more piece, we need someone in the middle, and [Stipanovich] solidified that all for us."
Yet when you look at just those two players, there is something clearly missing. It’s not as if both players dominated every game, especially with Stipanovich getting acclimated to Division I basketball over the course of the year.
That’s because it wasn’t just a couple players that made the Quakers great this year. It was a full team.
There was a pair of junior forwards, Kara Bonenberger and Katy Allen, which teamed with Stipanovich to make Penn the best frontcourt team in the Ancient Eight. Bonenberger put up 11.1 points and 6.5 rebounds per contest, earning second-team All-Ivy honors.
And while Allen is out for the rest of the year with a foot injury, her impact early in the year was huge, starting 13 games before Stipanovich took her place. Allen hit the game-winning shot to beat Miami, a big win that gave the Quakers momentum going into Ivy season.
Moving to the backcourt, another pair of juniors, Kathleen Roche and Renee Busch, came up with clutch three-pointer after clutch three-pointer all year. While Baron was a major catalyst in Penn’s Ivy clinching victory over Princeton, Roche hit multiple shots to quell any hopes of a Tigers comeback.
"I love what Kathleen did tonight," McLaughlin said after the victory. "She was the first one on the court tonight ... and she shoots the ball more than any basketball player I've ever seen.
On top of all of that is senior guard Meghan McCullough, who recovered from an ACL injury to lead the Quakers from the point, steadily guiding Penn with her stellar ball-handling.
And that's not to mention the other players who have contributed this year, including a pair of freshmen, Melanie Lockett and Stephanie Cheney, that stepped up after injuries to Allen and sophomore guard Keiera Ray.
So when you look at the 2013-14 Quakers as they head to the NCAA Tournament, it is easy to focus in on just a couple players.
But looking at the big picture, it is a full-team effort that has led to Penn shining the brightest. And at the end of the day, the individual accolades are simply a sign of the team’s overall success, not a sign that the team was driven by solely by those few players.
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