The title is clinched. Soon, a banner will be hanging from the southwest corner of the Palestra in honor of the Penn women's basketball team's first Ivy League championship. The Quakers could bask in the glory of putting together the most successful season in the program's history and lay off the intensity in practice for a day or two. But, complacency does not enter into the minds of the Red and Blue, especially "The Chargers." The Chargers is the nickname given to the Quakers who do not get much playing time or recognition, but who still work doggedly day in and day out at practice -- even after being crowned Ancient Eight champs-- to help make Penn the toughest squad it can be. Sophomore Sunny Pitrof exemplifies the Chargers' tireless tenacity, as evidenced by the blood-stained practice jersey she donned after a typically intense Quakers' workout this week. As a member of the Chargers, her responsibility is to practice with as much toughness and intensity as she can to help prepare the Red and Blue for this weekend's games against Brown and Yale. Even if it means losing a little blood. "We're always diving for loose balls," Pitrof said. "It makes practice interesting, but it makes us so much better." Last year, Penn assistant coach Dayna Smith quipped about the Quakers' lack of heart and challenged the whole team to lay their bodies out and take more charges. The non-starters made it a collective endeavor to meet the demands of Smith and began sacrificing their bodies in practice to increase the toughness of the entire team. Thus, they were dubbed the Chargers and have been the source of the Quakers' toughness throughout this championship campaign. The Red and Blue have come away with victories in several close, hard-fought games this year. And while it was the players on the floor who got the job done, Penn's lesser-known players also deserve a lot of the credit. "Our toughness is the biggest difference from last year's team," Penn head coach Kelly Greenberg said. "In order to win, the team needed to be tougher and [the Chargers] took the challenge. I don't think we'd be where we are without them... not even close." The Chargers have another, more practical purpose other than serving as sacrificial lambs to strengthen Penn's toughness. While scrimmaging, the Chargers play in the confines of the offensive and defensive sets of the Quakers' upcoming opponents to prepare the starters. The Chargers have accepted their role partly out of deference and partly because they realize they are a significant reason that the Quakers are going to their first-ever NCAA tournament in a a few weeks. "Everybody wants to play and can play," Penn senior guard Claire Cavanaugh said. "But I would definitely rather be a part of a successful program. I like team success before anything." Some of the younger members of the Chargers also realize that their time to shine will come, and they view their present role as a rite of passage. "I'm a young player and this will only make me better," Penn sophomore Ima Abia said. "This is the best time to learn and hopefully next year I can make an impact on the court." After all, the Chargers are not scrubs by any means. They are talented players on a quality Division I basketball team. In fact, the Chargers always play the starters tough and occasionally beat them in a scrimmage. And they love every minute of it. "They get joy out of beating and beating up the starters," Greenberg said. "They're always looking at the clock and saying 'Two minutes are left and we're down and we have to win.'" The Chargers are not showered with the recognition that some of Penn's more prominent players have accrued this season. But, perhaps more important than publicity for this group of women is the deep respect and appreciation that some of the Quakers' most outstanding contributors have gained for them this season. "I can't even put into words what they mean to the team," Penn forward Diana Caramanico said. "I have the utmost respect for them, and without them we wouldn't be good at all. They work their butts off to try and prepare us for what we'll face. "We would not be anywhere without them."Comments powered by Disqus
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