In the last year, 5000-to-1 long shots Leicester City won the English Premier League, the Cubs won the World Series, and the Cleveland Browns managed to win a football game, so one would be forgiven for thinking a Division III school had a real chance at taking down the defending Ivy League champions.
From the Quakers’ perspective: trap avoided.
In a game that was close for a total of five minutes, Penn women’s basketball dispatched Stevens Tech 89-43.
Surprisingly, Stevens Tech (9-8, 8-1 E8) jumped out to an early 6-4 lead, but the Quakers (10-6, 3-0 Ivy) never seemed to be in any real trouble. Not that the early struggle went unnoticed by coach Mike McLaughlin.
“[The sloppy start] was concerning,” McLaughlin said. “We were very choppy again in transition, and we didn’t have any flow... but we improved as the game went on.”
The flow was found quickly after that as the Red and Blue rattled off a 15-0 run that helped close the quarter with a commanding 12-point lead. The only drama for the remaining three quarters was how long McLaughlin would leave in the starters. The answer was a little under three quarters.
“I wanted the younger kids to succeed today – some of them were playing for the first time – so I tried to protect them a little bit... just to make sure they had some veterans out there with them,” McLaughlin said.
The result were lineups that mixed stars and youth for most the first three quarters, before finally emptying the bench in the fourth. Even with limited playing time, the usual suspects shined. Senior captain Sydney Stipanovich posted her eighth double-double of the year and her 300th career block, junior forward Michelle Nwokedi lead the team with 15 points, and junior guard Anna Ross was stellar in a nine-point seven-assist effort.
The bench shined as well, continuing its recent success with a total of 45 points. Sophomore guard Ashley Russell broke double figures to lead the bench in scoring, and senior Jackie Falconer scored a career-high nine in her 13 minutes. But when asked to name a standout bench performance coach McLaughlin didn’t hesitate to name guard Kendall Grasela, who registered three rebounds and six assists in only 14 minutes.
“I think she’s going to have a great career,” McLaughlin said of the freshman. “She gets the ball down the floor, she sees the floor, she’s got great size and she can guard. I think she has a bright future and can help us a lot this year if we need her.”
The 46-point margin of victory was the highest since 2014, and it allowed for some role reversal between the starters and the bench. This time it was the starters cheering on the bench, which at times during the fourth quarter was the loudest it had been all season.
“It was really exciting, we were having a lot of fun out there... but it’s always good to see everyone get minutes and touch the ball,” Stipanovich said.
“One of the things [the fans] don’t see is how hard we work in practice every day, so it’s good to see people who put in the work to be given the opportunity to show what they can do out on the floor,” Falconer said. “We were just having a lot of fun, which makes it easy to play.”
With the non-conference schedule complete, the Quakers turn their eyes to the Ivy League season, and a successful title defense.
“It’s going to be a battle,” McLaughlin said.
The good news for the Quakers is that they have much better odds than Leicester City.
All comments eligible for publication in Daily Pennsylvanian, Inc. publications.