Women's basketball faces tough stretch ahead
Team uses lessons from a 2-26 season as they face harder teams this month
December 6, 2011, 12:47 am · Updated December 7, 2011, 12:12 am·
Ellen Frierson | DP
Though the Penn women’s basketball team is off to its hottest six-game start since 1980-81, the team’s true test lies ahead.
The Quakers began the year 4-1, but none of their first five opponents featured winning records. Saturday’s loss to No. 3 Notre Dame began a stretch of nine games when the Quakers will face eight teams that sit above .500.
With such a difficult upcoming schedule, coach Mike McLaughlin knows he cannot grow complacent with the team’s fast start.
“We’re pleased that girls are getting better, the team is getting better, the program is getting better, but I didn’t put any of those benchmarks down,” McLaughlin said.
“Every day [it] is important that we get better … We’re not satisfied with where we’re at,” he added.
Senior captain Jess Knapp, one of four players remaining from the 2009-10 squad, praised the coaching staff for maintaining consistency through the ups and downs.
“Here we are with the best start in program history, and honestly, the practices are the same as they were when we were sophomores,” she said.
Knapp said that she still carries many of the lessons from that year.
“It was probably one of the best experiences, in hindsight, and something that I’ll take with me forever,” she said. “Every summer since then I’ve noticed that I’ve worked much harder.
“Because of the journey that we had, we were able to bond so much more [with the coaches],” Knapp added. “It was just such an emotional time. I think we all kind of learned something from it.”
This bond was evident in the praise McLaughlin gave senior captains Jourdan Banks and Knapp.
“You need leadership at the top,” he said, adding that the underclassmen are “learning from two very professional seniors.”
But even with early success, the Quakers can’t be satisfied. The team is in the midst of the toughest part of its schedule.
The Red and Blue have entered a stretch that includes tough matchups against three Big 5 opponents and defending Ivy champion Princeton in the Ancient Eight opener.
McLaughlin said the challenge for the team is to continue focusing on taking the season one game at a time and growing as the season progresses.
Given the team’s strong underclassmen core, Penn is not only primed to do well this year, but for the future as well.
Ivy Player of the Year candidate Alyssa Baron and backcourt sidekick Megan McCullough are only sophomores and freshman forward Kara Bonenberger — two-time Ivy Rookie of the Week — has emerged as a frontcourt force. Meanwhile, several other underclassmen have been playing important minutes for the team.
“[The underclassmen] know how much it means to the program, to us, their teammates, their coaches [and] this school to just get better,” Banks said. “And I think that’s just what everyone’s been trying to do and [they’ve been] pretty successful at it.”
Even for those who will graduate, it will be exciting to see the progress. Knapp is looking forward to their future.
“I can’t wait to see this team in three or four years because I think they are going to be a contender in the Ivy League.”