Mike McLaughlin didn’t know much about losing.
That was the first line of a Daily Pennsylvanian article written on March 24, 2010, after the Quakers finished the season with a program-worst 2-26 record. They set the program record for losses in a single season. They nearly became the first Penn team to lose every single Ivy game, only escaping in the final weekend after a victory at Dartmouth.
“There are times I thought, ‘Am I doing everything within my ability to make them better?’ McLaughlin said in 2010 interview. “They needed a strong leader in adversity.”
Today that feels like a distant memory.
Although Penn fell short at Detroit, 71-68, in the semifinals of the Women’s Basketball Invitational, the courage the Quakers showed in cutting a 13-point deficit to two with just under a minute left was a sign of the development of the program.
To say Mike McLaughlin has been successful this year and in the past would be a huge understatement. Prior to coaching at Penn, McLaughlin was the head coach at Holy Family, where he posted a 407-61 record, becoming the fastest coach in the history of women’s college basketball to reach 400 victories.
But his job in turning around the Quakers from perennial bottom dweller to Ivy third-place finisher has been nothing short of spectacular. A program that hadn’t reached the postseason since 2004 is rejuvenated.
“We sold our vision and we said this is what we’d like to get to,” McLaughlin said this week. “But you’re selling something that hasn’t happened and you’re hoping they trust what you’re saying. Now we can actually continue down that path and show them visually what this group did.”
The turnaround, though, has come in small steps.
In 2010-11, the Quakers managed to win 11 of their 28 games, and just a year later came within two games of being having a .500 record.
The team has had its fair share of setbacks too – losing at Harvard in double overtime in February 2011 and enduring then-captain Jess Knapp’s torn ACL in the middle of last season. But despite the challenges, the Quakers have wholly bought into McLaughlin’s philosophy.
“Our freshman year we were 2-26 and going out and getting a bid to postseason tournament is probably the best way we could have realistically ended it,” said Katie Davis, who along with Brianna Bradford, were the only remaining members of the 2009-10 squad.
That’s not to say the next few steps will be easy or that success is guaranteed. The Ancient Eight is much stronger than it ever has been in the past. While the Quakers gave Princeton 35 minutes of hell, the Tigers won’t back down so easily, nor will Harvard bend over as a stepping stone to the throne.
The Quakers have been a young team for three years now, but next year will mark the first time that McLaughlin’s recruits will form the majority of the lineup as upperclassmen.
Still, McLaughlin and company won’t forget the lessons of 2009-10. It’s time to show the Ivies that this is a program to be reckoned with.
SUSHAAN MODI is a junior international studies and business major from Demarest, N.J. and a former sports editor of The Daily Pennsylvanian. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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