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Senior captain Sydney Stipanovich will need to be firing on all cylinders if Penn women's basketball hopes to upset Duke on Sunday.

Credit: Alex Graves

A lot of times, it’s best to start off new experiences by easing yourself into them. Penn women’s basketball disagrees.

The Quakers start off their season this weekend with a tough test as they travel down to Durham, N.C., to take on perennial title contender Duke on Sunday. This is the second straight year Penn will face the Blue Devils in their season opener, after they fell at home last year by a score of 57-50.

For the defending Ivy League champs, this game is being treated no differently than one that occurs in the middle of the season. The message for them is simple: go out there and compete.

“Overall our expectations are to compete at a high level,” Penn coach Mike McLaughlin said. “To go out there, regardless of if it’s Duke or our second, third, fourth, or fifth opponent, that we handle each game with great confidence, great preparation, and play the game free and relaxed and compete as hard as we can.”

As the long preseason comes to a close, the players are relishing the opportunity to finally square off in a game that counts.

“We’re really excited. We’ve had two scrimmages, we’ve had the Red and Blue scrimmage against ourselves, we’re really excited to be on the road and be at Duke,” senior captain and center Sydney Stipanovich said. “But I think we’re just taking it one day at a time, each day at practice, getting a little better, and I think we’ll be ready to play on Sunday.”

The Red and Blue are no strangers to facing tough, nationally acclaimed opponents in their first game of the year, as they have squared off against Duke and Tennessee in the previous two season openers. These tough early season match-ups are no coincidence. In fact, that experience is something that McLaughlin strives to bring to his players.

“I want them to see environments that they may not see, and I want them to play against good competition, and I want them to embrace this,” he said. “They’re having fun out there, they want to play against the best, they want to compete in a really good environment, and I think it can only help us going forward, regardless of what the outcome is on Sunday we played against the best, and we’re going to learn a great deal from it.”

Despite the big name opponent, or perhaps because of the frequency that they have played opponents like Duke, the Quakers are unfazed — with good reason. Last year, the Red and Blue took a lead into the fourth quarter against the Blue Devils, and despite not being able to hold the lead until the end of the game, it showed that they have the capability to compete with some of the top teams around.

“All we’re going to do out there on Sunday is give it our best game,” senior captain and guard Kasey Chambers said. “Last year we were right there with them, and hopefully we can do the same thing and come out on top this time.”

The preseason Ivy favorites head into the game with a formidable squad that returns many key players from last year’s Ivy championship team. After a long preseason of practices and scrimmages, the team is eager to hit the road and get into the games that count.

In addition to the in-game experience, the weekend provides the Quakers with another valuable opportunity: time for team bonding. With the team flying out to the game on Friday, the Red and Blue can use the weekend to firm up their team chemistry for the rest of the season.

“We understand that there’s a long season ahead, so we’re just trying to keep the team together, use this weekend as a good team bonding opportunity, and get ready for the entire season after this one,” senior captain and forward Jackie Falconer said.

The road to a repeat will be a long and difficult road for the Quakers, but they can take the first step with a solid effort this weekend.