Katy Allen. Kara Bonenberger. Renee Busch. Jackie Kates.
These four individuals have been pivotal to the success of Penn’s women’s basketball this year.
And they’re all freshmen.
On a team that only has four juniors and seniors combined on its roster, the Quakers rely on their young players. With Jess Knapp’s injury limiting her playing time, this number has effectively been reduced to three players who have played for Penn for more than one full season.
Compare this to Princeton, Harvard and Yale: The Tigers have seven upperclassmen, while the Bulldogs and Crimson each have six seniors and juniors.
It is not merely Penn’s youth that is astounding, but also that these young players are logging a significant number of minutes and starting games.
A freshman has started in 47 straight matches for the Quakers. Jackie Kates has started in the last six games, and current Ivy League Rookie of the Week Katy Allen has started in nine straight, the bulk of the Ivy schedule thus far.
“The one that we’re really surprised and happy with is Katy Allen,” coach Mike McLaughlin said. “She has unbelievable motivation to be good, and her work ethic is exceptional … She’s contributing much earlier than we thought” she would.
Not only are the freshmen seeing extensive playing time, they are making significant contributions in the process. In 10 of the 21 games thus far, a freshman has been the highest scorer.
“We knew we needed a couple to contribute right away,” McLaughlin said. “We needed them in our rotation to play 20 to 25 minutes, and now many of them are playing in the 30s, which is a phenomenal feat for any freshman anywhere.”
Of the five players leading Penn in minutes played, four are freshmen. The other is sophomore Alyssa Baron.
Now that Penn has slipped into sixth place following its road trip, is it just youth and inexperience at the collegiate level that is the barrier to the team’s Ivy success?
The shining beacon of this season was the beginning. The Quakers had their best start in program history. If the reason for Penn’s struggles during Ivy play was the youth of its team, wouldn’t the beginning of the season have been more difficult, as high school players adjusted to collegiate play and standards?
Ivy play is just a different animal. With weekend road trips often requiring players to leave on Thursday — not to return until 4:30 a.m. Sunday — conference play poses a difficult transition for athletes just out of high school.
Additionally, Ivy play relies on familiarity. Teams play each other twice a year every year. Upperclassmen know the ropes. They know the teams, the courts and the opponents.
Freshmen don’t. It’s not a reflection of ability — one could hardly ask more from a freshman than an 80.4 free-throw percentage, as Kates has, or to lead the Ivy League in field-goal percentage, like Bonenberger does — rather, it’s a reflection of experience.
“A lot of these experiences they’re going through for the first time,” McLaughlin said. “We just went through the league one time, and as a coach you lean on your upperclassmen to explain what the trips are like.”
However, youth is temporary. Freshmen will become sophomores and sophomores will become juniors. Does that mean an Ivy League championship in Penn’s future? It’s likely.
“When you have a young group you have to be patient,” McLaughlin said. “But I love to coach, and having a young team gives you a good opportunity to teach.”
BRETTE TROST is a junior english major from New York, N.Y. She can be reached at dpsports@theDP.com.
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