2014 has already been an unforgettable year for Penn women’s basketball. Luckily for the Quakers, the program shouldn’t be lacking excitement anytime soon.
Following an outstanding season in which the Red and Blue captured their first Ancient Eight title since 2003-04, Penn will bring its summer to a close with a 10-day trip to Italy in mid-August before the semester begins later in the month.
And while some may view the trip solely as a reward for the Quakers’ success last season, it’s clear that the journey will be a mixture of both pleasure and business for Penn.
In addition to spending time sightseeing in Milan, Venice, and Rome, the Red and Blue will also play three games against various Italian and German professional squads throughout their trip.
“For a basketball program, number one we’re grateful for the opportunity to go and we’re grateful for the support of the alums for giving us this opportunity,” coach Mike McLaughlin said. “It gives us a chance to look forward to the year coming.”
Although the trip to Italy may be a new -- and rare -- feature to Penn’s offseason, the Quakers aren’t complaining about the occasion on the horizon.
"[The trip] gives us an opportunity to practice [and] to get together a little earlier than we would normally have been able to,” McLaughlin said. “I think there’s so much that this gives us an opportunity to do, not only for an experience for them for a lifetime, but as a program it gives us a chance to get together and develop a strong culture.”
The Red and Blue will kick off their trip in Philadelphia on August 11. After a short flight to New York, the Quakers will then depart for Milan where they will spend three days and play their first matchup against a select team of Italian all-stars.
Over the course of the subsequent six days, Penn will spend one day each in Venice, Florence, La Spezia and Pisa before wrapping up its trip with a two-day stint in Rome. The team will also take a day trip to Switzerland while staying in Milan, and play its final two games on consecutive days while in La Spezia and Pisa.
Due to NCAA rules, the Red and Blue’s four incoming freshmen will be ineligible to play and unable to travel with the Quakers. Moreover, Penn will be without forward Stephanie Cheney, who recently left the team after only one season with the program.
Nonetheless, as the Quakers transition into a new era -- one without recent graduates Alyssa Baron, Megan McCullough, Kristen Kody and Courtney Wilson -- Penn will get the chance to develop its culture and players’ abilities while on the court in Italy.
“We want to see who fits well together and plays well together,” senior forward Katy Allen said. “And obviously things will change by November, but it will be nice because it’ll be different without the four seniors from last year.”
Though Allen likely will not play overseas due to her ongoing recovery from a broken foot at the end of last season, the veteran is looking forward to utilizing her position as a team leader to help the squad grow.
“Just to kind of organize drills and get people back into the swing of things, I think that’s a good chance for us [seniors] to step up as leaders,” Allen said. “I guess [the injury recovery] could be a chance for me to step up in my role on the bench and see some things that I can help the other players out with.”
Last summer, Jerome Allen and Penn men’s basketball traveled to Italy in preparation for its upcoming season. It’s clear that the Quakers’ feedback following their experience abroad is fresh in the minds of McLaughlin’s squad.
“Right when they came back, we asked them how it went and they all said they loved it,” Allen said. “I’m looking forward to it based on what they said.”
And while the trip’s impact on the court may pay dividends in the long run for the Quakers, the personal ramifications are what matter most.
“I think it’s a very rewarding trip for them,” McLaughlin said. “It’s something that they’ll cherish for a very long time.”