New year, tougher schedule.
In addition to a greatly improved Ivy League this season, Penn women’s basketball also has the chance to play better non-conference teams, such as preseason top-five squads Notre Dame and Baylor, as well as local rivals in the annual Philadelphia Big 5 series.
The Quakers open their schedule on November 15 with an away game against Binghamton, a team the Quakers fell to last year. Penn is more than ready for the rematch.
“I think the first thing we have to do is start off really strong. Binghamton isn’t a big game necessarily, but we lost to them last year and it’s a game we definitely want back from the get go,” senior captain Anna Ross said.
The following week, the Red and Blue will head to the Bahamas to take part in the Junkanoo Jam. They open with Georgia Tech, last year’s National Invitational Tournament runners-up, and the result of this game will determine their opponent the next day. A win would mean they will likely go on to play Baylor, No. 3 in the preseason rankings and annual national title contenders.
The Quakers’ second opponent from the preseason top five is Notre Dame, who will visit the Palestra on December 9. These high-caliber additions to the schedule, while they might result in losses, will only help the Red and Blue in the long run.
Both Baylor and Notre Dame have years of NCAA tournament experience, and if Penn can learn from their play in these games, a defeat will be worth more than a win over a mid-major school.
“What I hope is that they understand when you get knocked down you have to get back up again. You’re going to go from one bad play to the next, you just have to respond accordingly. They’re going to be in the situation where they’re going to have some struggles at any time during the season, but I want to see them grow,” coach Mike McLaughlin said.
The Philadelphia Big 5 series is an area where Penn is eager to showcase its growth and improve from last year. Played against the nearby schools of La Salle, Saint Joseph’s, Temple and Villanova, these games will give the Quakers a good indication of where they rank among teams of a similar level. After a rough 0-4 record in these games last season, the Red and Blue will look to turn those results around and reassert dominance over their local rivals.
In the Ivy League’s preseason poll, Penn was picked to finish first and repeat as champions for the third year in row. However, rival Princeton was a close second place to the Quakers, meaning their two matchups, at the Palestra on January 6 and away on February 13, will have that much more meaning for league title implications.
“The Princeton game coming right off winter break is huge every year. It’s hard when transitioning from nonconference to Ivy, but I feel like the energy for that game is always high and hopefully that will give us a spark towards the end of the season,” Ross said.
While Princeton might be the Quakers' biggest threat for the Ivy title, they are far from the only one.
“It’s going to be more than just Penn and Princeton. Brown is young and they’ll all be back, Harvard’s extremely talented, I think we’re going to see a really good Columbia team this year, and Yale is on the rise as well. We have a serious league here,” McLaughlin said.
For the second year in a row, the Ivy League will have a postseason tournament played at the Palestra. In last year’s inaugural edition, the top seeded Quakers won both of their games to capture the title and an NCAA tournament spot in front of a packed home crowd. This year’s tournament is scheduled for March 10-11, and with so much on the line, this is definitely where the season reaches its climax.
“When I go back and watch the videos and see the confetti come down, it gives me chills. That’s our biggest goal, to get back there,” McLaughlin said. “To do it at the Palestra, in that atmosphere, what more can we ask for?”
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