O n Tuesday, Penn women’s basketball defeated four-time defending champion Princeton, 80-64, to win the Ivy League title, clinching its first NCAA Tournament berth in 10 years.
However, not many people have been following the team - even with the Quakers’ success. All year, the historic Palestra, known as the Cathedral of College Basketball, has sat mostly empty despite basketball games there every weekend. On Penn women’s basketball’s Senior Night, a game that was a must-win for the Quakers’ Ivy hopes, drew just 1,032 fans, and the team’s season-high in attendance was just a shade better at 1,485.
So now it’s time for the Penn community to celebrate the team’s accomplishments.
Since November, the Quakers have shown determination, responding to a 31-point loss to Princeton at the Palestra in January by winning 14 of their last 15 games and ending the Tigers’ reign atop the Ancient Eight.
“It’s just a huge accomplishment,” senior captain Alyssa Baron said. “We had an overall team effort tonight, and it’s what I’ve been dreaming about for four years. Every year now, we’ve been working towards it and building the pieces of the puzzle, and tonight we were able to get it accomplished.
“It is just so gratifying for all our hard work.”
The team has also overcome injuries and other adversity along the way. Last year’s starting point guard, sophomore Keiera Ray, has dealt with injuries all year, limiting her playing time and her chance to contribute on the court.
Yet the team hasn’t missed a beat with senior point guard Meghan McCullough recovering from an ACL tear that kept her out last season. The senior averaged over 37 minutes per game in Penn’s 14 Ivy games, providing a steady hand to Penn’s on-court success while serving as the team’s captain.
And talent-wise, this team is as good as it gets, sweeping the Ivy League’s postseason awards, led by Baron, who was the Ancient Eight’s Player of the Year.
With the team’s final public appearance at the Palestra on Monday before going off to the NCAA Tournament, it’s time for us to show our appreciation for the continuing success.
“Our fans have been a big part of our success,” coach Mike McLaughlin said. “So it is only fitting they share in this experience with us. It’s going to be a great feeling sitting in The Cathedral of College Basketball and seeing our school’s name appear on the bracket.
“I can’t wait to share in that with our players, staff, family, friends, alumni, fans and everyone else who has meant so much to this program over the years.”
As a community, we need to rally around this Ivy champion squad and celebrate its accomplishments similar to how students packed Rhodes Field for Penn men’s soccer’s NCAA Tournament game.
It shouldn’t take free T-shirts, food and drink or the possibility of Penn being featured live on ESPN to get people to celebrate with the Penn squad, although all of those opportunities are there for the taking.
Ultimately, there is no excuse not to show school spirit right now when you have an Ivy champion inviting you into its arena for free. The last time Penn appeared in an NCAA Tournament in basketball was seven years ago, so our community can’t take this one for granted.
But Monday is not the last chance you have to support your classmates.
Regardless of whether you come to the Palestra, this Penn squad is NCAA Tournament-bound and will have a game on national television on Saturday or Sunday.
So this weekend, take time out of your schedule to join in the Quakers’ journey, whether you have been supporting the team all along or not. Watch the game on television. Root for the Red and Blue. Follow the coverage in The Daily Pennsylvanian all week long.
At the end of the day, this week is about something bigger than basketball. It is about corralling school spirit and commending classmates on a major group accomplishment.