While the concept of the “sophomore slump” has taken on a special role in the world of sports cliches, the Penn women’s basketball team quietly boasts a quintet of steadily-improving second-year players.
This season, much of the coverage for the Quakers has been on the play of junior guard Alyssa Baron or freshman guard Keiera Ray, but Kara Bonenberger, Katy Allen and the rest of Penn’s sophomore class have had big roles behind the scenes.
As freshmen last season, the five current sophomores — Bonenberger, Allen, Kathleen Roche, Renee Busch and Jessica Monsman — combined for 49 starts, but have already surpassed that this season with 62 appearances in the starting lineup.
Additionally, the five players remain close to one another despite the competition among themselves for playing time.
“I think we are close enough a class that we will tell each other what’s wrong for the good of the team,” Roche said. “We are close enough that we can criticize each other and not be afraid that something will be wrong off the court.”
Within the class, Bonenberger has stood out the most in Ivy League play this season. The 6-foot-1 forward has been an integral part of the Quakers’ recent success, having solidified the Red and Blue’s frontcourt.
Bonenberger leads the Ivy League in blocks per game, helping Penn hold its opponents to just 56.8 points per contest, second in the Ancient Eight.
“[Junior forward] Courtney Wilson and I cover each other every day in practice,” Bonenberger said. “During practice, I don’t really get the opportunity to block her, so getting the opportunity in games feels pretty nice.”
Along with Bonenberger in the post, Allen has been a constant part of the Quakers’ starting frontcourt, ranking second on the team with 4.9 rebounds per game.
“Katy Allen’s contribution to the team is on both ends of the court,” coach Mike McLaughlin said. “She can score the ball when need be, but [she] does all the things that help a team win.”
Within the sophomore class, McLaughlin thought the most improved was Roche, who went from averaging just nine minutes per game last season to starting every contest this year.
“Last year, Kathleen didn’t play as much last year because she wasn’t quite adapted to this level,” McLaughlin said. “She is a high energy kid and she just needed to figure the college game out a little bit.”
Roche also saw the improvements in her game as her minutes increased this year.
“Last year, I was more getting a feel for everything.” Roche said. “This year, I’ve been able to get more minutes and been able to find out exactly what I can do to help the team.”
A big moment for the class came during Penn’s upset victory over Harvard on Friday. In the final five minutes of the game, McLaughlin played the four healthy sophomores — Monsman is out with an injury — with each contributing to the five-point win.
With the win over Harvard, the sophomores are contributing to one of Penn’s best seasons in recent memory, as it has reached a 5-2 record in Ivy play — its best after seven conference games since 2004-05.
What makes this start more important for the team is that they have each of the second-year players for two more seasons.
“It is exciting to have two more years,” Bonenberger said. “So I think we’re all just excited to keep playing and doing well on the season.”
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