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Junior center Sydney Stipanovich is now the program's all-time leader in blocks with 197

Credit: Ilana Wurman , Ilana Wurman, Ilana Wurman

It takes most teams a couple of games to warm up early in the season before the players really hit their stride, both the best teams and the worst teams.

Look at LeBron James and the 2014 Cleveland Cavaliers, for example. And hey, the 76ers had to play 18 games this season before they notched their first win.

This year, however, Penn women’s basketball needed no warm-up. After narrowly falling to No. 14 Duke in its season opener, the squad has hit the court running and not looked back, winning four in a row against talented opponents.

And the success of the Red and Blue has not gone unnoticed. In the latest Ratings Percentage Index ranking, the Quakers stood at 17th in the nation, 32 spots above their closest Ivy competitor and the 2014 defending Ivy champion, Princeton, which came in at No. 42 on the list.

“I think [being ranked] only motivates us to work even harder and get even better,” sophomore forward Michelle Nwokedi said. “I don’t think it adds pressure at all.”

While the team has been recognized on a national scale, a few of its players are making headlines individually in the 2015-16 season.

During last Tuesday’s game against Colorado State, junior center Sydney Stipanovich became Penn’s all-time leader in blocked shots with 197, surpassing the previous record of 194. With nearly two full seasons of eligibility remaining, Stipanovich is on her way to cementing her name in the record books for many years to come.

Coach Mike McLaughlin has not only been impressed with Stipanovich’s stellar play on both ends of the court, but also applauds the captain for stepping up as a leader on the floor after the team graduated four seniors in 2014.

“Sydney has really been the anchor for us,” he said. “She has taken a new role on the court in terms of maturity.”

Stipanovich’s dominance couples with Nwokedi’s equally impressive skill set to create a fierce duo in the frontcourt — something that has contributed to Penn’s fantastic defense throughout the first five games. So far, the Quakers have only yielded 60 points once and have kept opponents below 50 in three of their five contests.

McLaughlin believes the camaraderie between these two will only continue to grow as the season progresses.

“It’s their passion about the team and how they want to be really good together [that is most impressive],” he said. “They both have unique abilities. They both can score the ball. They both can block shots. They both can run the floor. I just think it’s really important that they want to be good together.

“It’s a selfless act. I don’t think they individually want to be good. [...] They want to be the best two they can be.”

Nwokedi also collected some conference honors this week, as she was selected as the Ivy League Co-Player of the Week for the first time in her career after being named Ivy League Rookie of the Week six times last season.

Like Stipanovich, Nwokedi has stepped up in big moments — especially last week when the sophomore scored 10 points in the final eight minutes of play to rally the team back from 12 points down to Colorado State.

“I think I have a lot more confidence,” the Missouri City, Texas, native said. “My teammates are behind me 100 percent.”

Stipanovich and Nwokedi will take the court again this Saturday against Navy at the Palestra as the team attempts to extend its win streak and McLaughlin seeks his 499th career win.

While the Quakers beat the Blue and Gold (4-2) last year in Annapolis, the Red and Blue know that Navy never fails to put up a good fight.

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