PRINCETON, N.J. — In an Ivy League preseason poll, the Penn women’s basketball team was picked to finish in fourth place — a large jump for a team two years removed from a season with only two wins and a last-place finish.
And sitting at 2-6 in Ivies with six games to play, any improvement over last year’s 5-9, sixth-place standing seemed unlikely.
But the Quakers continued their ascent under coach Mike McLaughlin. They won four of their final six, including a road sweep of Brown and Yale in the final weekend before falling to undefeated Ivy champ Princeton on Tuesday.
“It’s just very telling of our character and the team’s philosophy to keep chugging and just trying to compete on every play,” said senior captain Jess Knapp, who finished the season despite playing with two torn knee ligaments.
“Another team in our situation with three games left may not have responded the same way, and I think that’s just very fitting of our team.”
Leading the way for the Quakers (13-15, 6-8 Ivy) was sophomore guard Alyssa Baron, who averaged 18 points per game in the final three contests, earning her co-Ivy Player of the Week. With the departure of Knapp and senior Jourdan Banks next season, Baron will be one of the leaders on the young Quakers’ squad.
“I was really proud of Alyssa this year,” McLaughlin said. “She had a great start, struggled in the middle, but I thought defensively she was greatly improved this year from last. She’s starting to play a complete game every time out … I see her junior and senior year being even better than what she’s done so far.”
Baron, who scored a weekend-high 23 points in Penn’s 72-66 win over Brown (16-12, 7-7) on Mar. 2, also secured the Ancient Eight scoring title for the second consecutive season. Going into Tuesday’s matchup with Princeton (24-4, 14-0), Baron found herself six points behind the Tigers’ Niveen Rasheed. She outscored her opponent, 18-10, in a 79-42 Quakers loss.
Though the Red and Blue fell in the finale, Knapp called the moment the final buzzer sounded at Jadwin Gymnasium “bittersweet” — though it signaled the end of her career, it also meant she had achieved the goal of completing the year on her injured knee.
“Under any other circumstances, I would have never wanted this season to end — to just go on forever,” Knapp said. “But the fact that I was able to make it … the whole way, it’s pretty good.”
Knapp played a large role in her team’s 61-58 win over Yale (16-12, 8-6) on Mar. 3. In perhaps her best game of the weekend, she scored seven points, grabbed six boards, dished out three assists and managed two steals in 35 minutes on the floor.
But in the final game, Knapp almost didn’t make it through. Early in the first half, she fell to the court and had to be helped off, but almost immediately she began doing exercises on the sidelines to work her way back into the game.
“It was a little tweak, definitely more painful than I’ve had since I came back,” she said. “It’s hard to not finish, to not stay on the court in your last game.”
After the game, McLaughlin gushed with pride when talking of Knapp and Banks.
“I thank them for what they’ve done for this year’s team and for future teams. It just was a privilege to be able to coach both of them — great representatives of the program and of the school.”
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