Penn Athletics saw its fair share of improvement this past fall. After finishing in the bottom half of the Ivies last year, Penn football won a share of the Ancient Eight title, while Penn men’s cross country had possibly its best season in program history.
But now, the fall season is behind us. So, which of the Red and Blue’s team will see the biggest improvements this winter?
Sports Editor-elect Tommy Rothman: Women’s basketball has a chance to make a big improvement this season.
Of course, the Quakers finished second last year and won a game in the WNIT, so handing them Most Improved honors wouldn’t be the same as rewarding the horrible kid in little league who shows up almost-half-decent the next year. Even if the Red and Blue just tread water, they’ll post yet another strong season under coach Mike McLaughlin. But the jump from second to first is a huge one, and it’s one the Quakers have a real chance to make.
Knocking off Princeton, coming off an undefeated regular season, won’t be easy, but the Red and Blue have looked great in non-conference play, and if they handle business against the rest of the Ivy League, they’ll have a shot to knock off the Tigers head-to-head and claim their second Ivy title in three years.
President-elect Colin Henderson: I’m going to keep things in the Palestra and go with men’s basketball.
Last year, the Red and Blue finished tied for last in the Ivy League. But coming off of three straight years on single-digit win totals, the 2015 Quakers look like a completely different team. In fact, sitting on four solid wins only six games into their seasons, they look like they may even be able to contend for a spot in the top half of the Ancient Eight.
In his opening salvo leading the program, coach Steve Donahue has wasted no time making his mark on the team’s style of play. Penn’s ball movement is crisper than it has been in years — and it is paying major dividends. Helped by impressive individual scoring displays from Sam Jones and Darien Nelson-Henry made possible by team offensive play, the Quakers have already broken 75 points in four games this year.
Yes, the team still needs to improve defensively. And it needs to get more individual production out of its primary ball handlers. But with a strong start already behind them, the Red and Blue look fully poised to improve mightily from a disappointing 2014-15 campaign.
Sports Editor Holden McGinnis: I think the men’s swim team has the most room to exceed expectations this year – at least the expectations that everyone else in the Ivy League swimming world has set for them. Given the historic dominance of Princeton and Harvard, picking one of those two teams as the conference champion would be the safest bet. But the Quakers aren’t going for safe this year; they’re going for the crown.
After a thrilling third-place finish in 2014, the Red and Blue settled back to fourth in the Ivies in 2015. But with the deep talent and untapped potential the team has this year, 2016 could be the year that an Ivy title finally comes within clinching distance for Penn.
The Quakers return two star seniors in co-captains Eric Schultz and Chris Swanson, who racked up four individual Ivy titles in 2015. While the junior and sophomore classes are deep in talent, particularly in the distance and breaststroke events, the freshman class could be the boost Penn needs to breakthrough to a top finish. Rookie IMers Mark Andrew and Thomas Dillinger finished the 200-yard individual medley last weekend in blazing fashion, taking first and second, respectively, against a tough Tigers squad. If the duo and the rest of the Class of 2019 can step up in February, the sky is the limit for the Quakers.
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