Penn women's basketball primed to rise in Ivies


Quakers look to capitalize on last season’s record turnaround


knapp

Senior Jess Knapp leads a team that is mostly underclassmen this year, but says they are learning the system quickly.

Photo by Kai Tang


Success is often linked to experience.

This season, a young Penn women’s basketball team will try to prove otherwise.

Following the largest single-season turnaround in program history, the team looks to demonstrate that its Ivy preseason No. 4 ranking is no mistake.

The last time the Quakers were picked to finish in the top half of the Ivy League was 2004-05 when they were the defending conference champs.

Coach Mike McLaughlin was all smiles at practice, where the Red and Blue are preparing for their first game on Sunday.

“Our work ethic and progress have been tremendous,” McLaughlin said. “We make great steps everyday.”

Last season, the Quakers finished sixth with a record of 11-17, 5-9 Ivy — a nine-win improvement from the 2009-10 season.

Penn will also look to continue this improvement with the return of key players such as Ivy League Rookie of the Year Alyssa Baron, sophomore starter Meghan McCullough and senior, two-year captain Jess Knapp.

The team will heavily rely on the sophomore guard Baron who won the league scoring title, averaging 16.6 points per game.

McLaughlin believes that Baron will only improve.

“I credit her for what she put in during the offseason,” McLaughlin said. “She’s stronger, faster and even better than she was last year.”

The Quakers will also look to Knapp not only to continue her rebounding prowess, but also to act as a coach on the floor.

With the help of these players, the Red and Blue have a chance to sustain or improve upon their second-ranked scoring defense in the Ancient Eight, allowing only 54.9 points per game.

At the same time, they must also improve their second worst-ranked scoring offense, which scored only 53.7 points per game.

Penn does not face an easy road ahead, though, especially given a squad of six freshmen and five sophomores on its 15-player roster.

Knapp, however, does not believe the team’s inexperience will affect its success this season.

“The freshmen are really getting acclimated to the system quickly,” she said. “They all came to preseason in good shape, ready to work and most importantly — to learn.”

McLaughlin echoed Knapp’s sentiment, adding that it’s exciting to coach such a young team.

“Every day is new,” he said. “Every day is a teaching day.”

The Quakers begin their 2011-12 season on Sunday against St. Francis (N.Y.) at the Palestra.

The schedule also features road trips to Notre Dame — the NCAA runner-up last year, which beat both Tennessee and UConn in the NCAA tournament — and to Southern California for a two-game tournament at San Diego State in late December.

On the quickly-approaching start of the season, Knapp spoke for the team.

“I’m excited to see how we fend for ourselves,” she said. “But I don’t doubt that we’re ready for whatever comes our way.”

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