It’s easy to grow accustomed to greatness.
After years of achieving incredible success and earning numerous accolades, it would be reasonable for Penn women's basketball fans to have gotten used to a certain level of excellence from their team.
But this sense that Penn women’s basketball is always good, always beats down lesser opponents, and always contends for an Ivy championship, actually belies just how special its run of success is — this team has moved the bar.
Although the Quakers fell just short this season, there is a lot to be happy about from this team. The team had a strong trip to the postseason, beating Albany and losing a close one to Saint John’s in the WNIT.
Members of the team won numerous postseason awards, including a second team All-Ivy selection for senior guard Anna Ross, senior forward Michelle Nwokedi's third-straight first team All-Ivy nod, and a second-team All-Ivy selection for freshman center Eleah Parker, who was also named Ivy League Rookie of the Year after an incredible first season.
Night after night, it was a given that Nwokedi and Parker would dominate on the low post, put up double-doubles and crush opposing bigs into submission. It was assumed that senior guard Lauren Whitlatch would knock down clutch threes from way beyond the arc. And Ross would always be there like magic, running the plays, filling holes on defense, making the extra pass, and running in from nowhere to snatch the ball away from the other team’s unwitting guards.
It hasn’t always been this way.
Penn women’s basketball is enjoying a renaissance, thanks in large part to coach Mike McLaughlin. The first chapter of this winning tradition closed in 2015, when his first recruiting class graduated after finally returning the program to relevance following a 1-13 conference record in McLaughlin's first season.
Now, we have the opportunity to watch the second chapter of McLaughlin and Penn women’s basketball come to an end.
This chapter featured the dominance that comes when two historic athletes share the floor at the same time. Nwokedi and Ross will both graduate as two of the greatest women’s basketball players in school history. Not only did they help lead the team to back-to-back Ivy championships, including a win in the inaugural Ivy tournament, but they have also earned incredible individual accolades as well.
Ross, a careful, selfless point guard, is the all-time leader in assists in program history. Her style of play isn’t the flashiest, but she makes everyone on the court better through brilliant playmaking and passing that limits turnovers and puts her teammates in position to score.
Nwokedi is one of five members in program history to be named Ivy League Rookie of the Year (she was joined by Parker this year). Last year, she was Ivy League Player of the Year, and the inaugural tournament’s Most Outstanding Player. She has repeatedly been selected first team All-Ivy and first team All-Big 5.
Back-to-back championships is a big deal. Making the NCAA Tournament twice and winning a game in the WNIT are big deals. Breaking program records and cementing yourself in the history books is a big deal.
It hurts to watch your school lose to its biggest rival three times in one season, and it hurts the players exponentially more to have to lose those games, especially with a chance to go to the NCAA Tournament.
Despite these flashes of disappointment, that will not be the prevailing memory from this season, and especially not from the history that these seniors have left.
That memory will be of greatness.
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