On November 14, Penn women’s basketball will begin the road to its Ivy League title defense. However, that title defense will have to come without one of the team’s young developing forwards.
Rising sophomore Stephanie Cheney, who played in 22 games for the Quakers last season, has left the program, leaving the team without a piece in the post that coach Mike McLaughlin could have utilized.
Cheney will stay at Penn but told McLaughlin that “there’s other things at Penn she wants to experience.” McLaughlin said he was disappointed in her decision and that she wouldn’t be a part of the program’s future.
“I thought Stephanie had a good future with us in basketball,” McLaughlin said. “She expressed that she had a tremendous experience.
“Obviously there were challenges and there were ups and downs like a typical freshman goes through.”
Cheney got off to a slow start in the 2013-14 season, playing just 16 minutes in the Red and Blue’s first eight games. She slowly began to see more court time as the calendar flipped to 2014, beginning with a strong eight-point performance against Norfolk State in early January.
With junior forward Katy Allen, the Quakers’ top bench player, getting hurt prior to Penn’s roadtrip to Brown and Yale in February, Cheney stepped into a bigger role earlier than expected.
During that trip, she flourished, scoring 15 points in 27 minutes while racking up five rebounds. While she saw just 11 minutes over Penn’s final four games, her midseason success made it seem like a sure thing that Cheney would see more of the court in her sophomore year.
Freshman forward Michelle Nwokedi may see a bigger role to begin the season after Cheney’s departure from the program. Nwokedi joins the Red and Blue after a strong senior season at St. Agnes Academy in Texas.
Nwokedi said it would be tough to find playing time as a freshman in an interview with the DP in April.
“They said that coming in as a freshman, it is obviously going to be hard,” she said. “As for the many forwards we have ... everyone has to work equally hard in order to get a starting spot”
Nwokedi said she could play multiple positions, touting her ability to play both guard and in the post. Her versatility will be key to a team that not only loses Cheney, but a strong senior class that included the program’s second all-time leading scorer — Alyssa Baron — and a solid center in Courtney Wilson.
The 2014-15 squad will not only need a contribution from Nwokedi in the post but will also need continued production from sophomore center Sydney Stipanovich and senior forwards Kara Bonenberger and Katy Allen, the latter of whom is coming off a foot injury suffered last season.
McLaughlin may also look to rising sophomore forwards Jackie Falconer and Sade Gibbons for key minutes off the bench, with extra minutes available after Cheney’s departure.