Penn women’s basketball may enter winter break on a three-game winning streak, but the team will face six new opponents over the holidays.
While most Penn students fly home next weekend, the Quakers (3-2) will stick around for a home game against Army tonight and Drexel on Sat., Dec. 21.
Army has started the year with a 7-1 record, and as a local rival and defending WNIT champions, Drexel will be a difficult nonconference test. Although he expects a tough game, coach Mike McLaughlin thinks the timing of the game works well for his team.
“Since I’ve been here, we’ve played Drexel at the same time, at least three of the times … It’s the end of our finals. It’s a good spot for us,” McLaughlin said.
Penn is still missing the contributions of injured sophomore guard Keiera Ray. Although she has ample time to recover before the break, McLaughlin doesn’t have a timetable for her return.
“I can say today she’s not quite ready,” McLaughlin said last week. “She needs to go live with us for quite a few practices before we can think about when she can get back to play. But she’s worked hard at it. She’s been through her ups and downs mentally with it, but I have no doubt that in a couple weeks we’ll be having a different conversation.”
After the Drexel game, the team has 10 days off before heading to Coral Gables to take on ACC power Miami.
Miami is the hometown of senior captain Alyssa Baron, who was recently named both Co-Ivy and Big 5 player of the week, and the New Year’s Day matchup with the Hurricanes is a chance for Penn to show its gratitude to one of the best players in its recent women’s hoops history.
“Definitely really excited for that. It will be the first time playing close to home,” Baron said. “I have a lot of friends and family ready for that game. I’ve been telling everyone about it, and my parents and my brother and sister have, so I’ll definitely have a lot of fans there in support.”
The Quakers will face Norfolk State at home on Jan. 5, followed by another road test on Jan. 8 at Morgan State. The team caps off its winter break slate with a game against Ivy power Princeton at the Palestra on Jan. 11.
Baron sees preparation as key for competing against a tough set of opponents over the holidays.
“First off, we need to get better as team ourselves. And when it comes up to game time against those big-time teams, whether it’s Big 5 games or Miami in the ACC,” Baron said, “I think … we just prepare, and we know that it’s going to be a challenge for each of those games just like every game is a challenge. Pretty much on any night any team can win … We just need to prepare in practice, and when those games come up, we’ll be ready to play.”
While Penn’s winning streak will be put to the test over the next few weeks, the team also plans to enjoy each other’s company over the long break.
“It’s definitely a lot less stressful not having to worry about school, classes, tests … It’s a time that we really get to have some team bonding,” Baron said. “We get to hang out a lot because there’s not a lot of other people on campus and not a lot else to do, so we’ll go and [do] some team activities. Whether it’s [going] shopping downtown or going to King of Prussia, we definitely need time for others things besides just basketball.”
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