Penn women’s basketball’s 2013-14 schedule is a sight to behold.
Notre Dame, a Final Four team in last year’s NCAA tournament, will come to the Palestra on Nov. 23. That’s a top-flight foe, especially for a program that just enjoyed postseason success for the first time in school history last year.
“We played [Notre Dame] two years ago. They were interested to come and play in this market in the Philadelphia area,” coach Mike McLaughlin said. “I thought it was a great opportunity for our program to get a top-five program in the country on the women’s side into the Palestra.”
The 2001 NCAA Champions, the Fighting Irish have made three straight Final Four appearances and 18 straight NCAA Tournament appearances under coach Muffet McGraw.
But after Notre Dame, the Quakers’ strong slate gets a little less Final Four-heavy and a little more balanced.
“We’re challenged as we always are here at Penn on a big schedule, playing Big 5 teams that are … tournament-level teams, Atlantic 10, Big East schools,” McLaughlin said. “Then we added Notre Dame with the depth and Final Four-type team, and obviously an ACC power in Miami.”
“But we have great depth outside of that,” McLaughlin added. “I mean, just our opener [St. Francis (N.Y.)], a team that’s really shown great program growth. We’ve got [LIU Brooklyn]. So we have a good balance. We have NEC schools to ACC schools and a lot of teams in between.”
After the early-season showdown with the Irish, the Quakers will meet up with city rivals La Salle and Drexel along with LIU Brooklyn, Army and Bucknell before the holidays.
The Quakers will then travel to Miami for a New Year’s Day showdown against the Hurricanes in preparation for Ivy League play.
“The Miami game is exciting because it would be a home game for Alyssa Baron, one of our seniors that’s played three great years here,” McLaughlin said. “This is more of a game for her to bring her back home to play in front of her family, her friends. But what she’s given to Penn basketball, I think it’s a homecoming for her.”
McLaughlin says his team is no stranger to national-level opponents.
“We had Virginia on our schedule [last year]. We played the likes of Iowa State in the past and some other BCS schools. You know, we played Notre Dame a couple years ago, and it’s a great challenge, put it that way. I think it gives our kids [a chance to] play against the best and hopefully it will make them better.”
The team opens its Ivy League slate at the Palestra against Princeton on Jan. 11, followed by games with Big 5 rivals Villanova, St. Joseph’s and Temple, before continuing with the Ivy League stretch in late January.
Considering Penn’s outlook in the Ivies, McLaughlin believes his team will have time for both challenges and improvement.
“We’ll compete. We’ve added some depth to our roster. But we’re going to be challenged. The league is very good. It’s challenging for us. We’ve got a long way before we get into league play … so hopefully when league play comes around when we do play Princeton, we’ll be ready to play.”
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