When coach Mike McLaughlin first heard that his Penn women’s hoops team had a spot in the postseason for the first time since 2004, he immediately thought of three people.
“Amy Donovan, Sarah Bucar, Kate Slover — just the ones that were here and helped build the foundation,” McLaughlin said.
Those three seniors played through a 2-26 season in 2009-10, McLaughlin’s first year at Penn and the program’s worst season. Nevertheless, they, along with two current team members — Brianna Bradford and Katie Davis — fought through the disappointing campaign to set the tone for the revitalization of the Penn women’s basketball program.
Now, only four years later, the Red and Blue are back in the postseason. They’ll take on Howard at the Palestra tonight at 7 p.m. in the first round of the Women’s Basketball Invitational, one of three postseason tournaments for Division I programs.
“This season has been pretty sweet,” senior Katie Davis said. “Going out and getting a bid to a postseason tournament is probably the best way we could have realistically ended it in four years.”
Penn, which has appeared in the Women’s NCAA tournament twice, is the No. 2 seed after finishing with a 16-12 regular season record in sole possession of third place in the Ivy League.
“Especially in my career, it’s always been a goal to play in the postseason. I mean it’s not the NCAA Tournament or the WNIT, but it definitely shows how we are making strides,” junior guard Alyssa Baron said.
Even though this season has been historic for the Quakers, they don’t intend for tonight to be their last game.
“Our goal is to win the whole tournament and we’re not going to be shy about that,” Davis said. “We don’t think it’s going to be our last game.”
Howard, which is 20-11, 12-4 in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, missed out on a return trip to the NCAA tournament when it lost in the MEAC Tournament final to Hampton.
Nonetheless, Howard is one of the best defensive teams in the country, holding opponents to under 50 points per game. That’s good for sixth in the nation.
“It’s just going to be about us pushing the ball instead of settling for the half-court where they will be at their best,” Baron said.
The Quakers also spent much of practice on Tuesday working against the zone defense that the Bison are sure to implement.
But even though the focus Thursday night will shift to the game, it will be hard to ignore the tremendous leaps that the program has made in just four short years.
“I kept reminding them that this is a process,” McLaughlin said. “I just try to keep them in the moment. There was a lot of trials and tribulations for this sport, but at the end of the day it was so rewarding.”
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