As we get deeper into the second semester, we’ve started to get a firm grasp on the true makeup of Penn’s winter sports teams. Though there unquestionably is still time for certain teams to flip the script, we’ve already seen enough from most squads to judge whether they’re contenders or pretenders at this point. With that said, our sports editors take to the roundtable to debate: which Penn winter team has exceeded expectations the most so far:
Cole Jacobson, Sports Editor:
While this weekend’s upset at Division II West Chester might have a bitter taste in the team’s mouth right now, the strides that Penn gymnastics has made in the 2017 season overall have still been unforeseen by anybody outside the Red and Blue’s locker room.
After winning the Ivy Classic and/or the ECAC title in four of the last five seasons entering 2015-16, last year’s squad staggered to a surprising last-place finish at the Ivy Classic. In the ensuing offseason, a tremendously talented quintet of seniors — all five of whom individually qualified for the 2016 USA Gymnastics National Championships — departed to graduation, leading to a vastly overhauled personnel given the task of taking the program back to the top.
Taking this past Saturday out of the equation, the new kids on the block have had little problem doing so.
The team’s season-opening meet saw Penn post its highest score since February 2015 in a second-place effort behind then-No. 10 George Washington. Immediately after that, the Quakers only needed a week to break that mark once again, with the epic comeback victory over Yale seeing in what stands as the Ivy League’s collective best score of the season.
How has Penn done it? A phenomenal freshman class that has already seen five rookies score in competition is a pretty good start. Of course, then there’s been the breakout of Caroline Moore, who won three events against Yale and has arguably been the conference’s top performer despite missing nearly her entire freshman season.
Even with the West Chester upset, the Quakers will almost certainly still be atop the Ivy League when the next national rankings drop. If what I’ve seen so far is any indication, this team is here to stay as a legit title contender — and that’s something few outside the team thought we’d be saying only weeks ago.
Yosef Weitzman, Associate Sports Editor:
With most of its contributors returning from a team that won the Ivy League last year, expectations were rightfully very high for Penn women’s basketball heading to this season. And well, things have been pretty rocky at times.
Not only did Penn get upset in its home season-opener by Binghamton, but Penn has also lost its fair share of close games this season. On top of that, the Quakers lost starting junior guard Lauren Whitlatch for the season last week when she tore her ACL.
Instead of throwing in the towel though, the Quakers have stepped up to every single challenge, even if it ended up in loss. For example, take the Red and Blue’s Big 5 games last week. After losing by double digits to a Villanova team that had gotten blown out by Temple earlier in the season, the Quakers came back and played one of their best games of the season against the Owls. Temple proved to be a little too much in the end, but the Quakers gave the Owls a serious scare.
In addition to that, the Quakers are still in perfectly good shape to make another trip to the NCAA tournament. Penn is undefeated in Ivy League play so far and already boasts a very important victory on the road against rival Princeton.
While it’s gotten a bit ugly at times, Penn has persevered through it all and continue to make good on a season that easily could have turned disastrous.
Laine Higgins, Associate Sports Editor:
Only three games into its conference slate, Penn men’s basketball has yet to win a game. After finishing fifth last season with a 5-9 Ivy League record and also dropping its first three contests, the result perhaps is not a huge surprise.
However, after last week’s 35-point offensive explosion by freshman forward A.J. Brodeur against La Salle and similarly strong showing by classmate Ryan Betley, it might be time to reevaluate expectations for the Quakers (7-9, 0-3 Ivy).
Brodeur and Betley have proven they have enough poise to carry Penn’s offense when their upperclassmen teammates aren’t shooting well, both in their most recent bout and throughout the month of January.
Additionally, the Quakers have stumbled upon a winning formula beyond the arc. La Salle was the fifth game of the season – and first since before winter break – when the team has netted at least 11 three-pointers. In those games, Penn is 4-1. While strong three-point shooting is not the sole least common denominator to those wins, it is encouraging to see the Quakers’ regaining their first semester mojo.
It’s too soon to say for certain, but I’m willing to bet that the win against La Salle was just the first of many “expectation-exceeding” victories for Penn. Now that the non-conference schedule has wrapped up, the Quakers will take to the floor with more urgency for each game. Every result matters.
Although it’s a little counterintuitive to rely on freshmen for leadership, the Class of 2020 has showed they are up to the task. Now the rest of the team must step up to their level if the Quakers hope to silence the critics and keep their momentum rolling.