Coming into the season, Penn’s starting front court of Michelle Nwokedi and Sydney Stipanovich got most of the attention. And rightfully so — the pair led the Ivy League in rebounding and were both near the top in scoring. And while both have been been brilliant once again this season, it was actually their back up who did the most damage this weekend.
Sophomore forward Princess Aghayere led the Quakers in scoring against Columbia with 21 points and chipped in with another 12 against Cornell. While the six-foot Virginia native has been showing flashes of talent all season-long, I’m not sure anyone saw this outburst coming from her.
Penn is certainly not complaining though, as Aghayere’s emergence makes the Quakers look like an even likelier favorite to win the Ancient Eight again this year. If Aghayere is able to continue her strong play, she might even force coach Mike McLaughlin to consider making a change in his starting lineup. And that’s a big deal. McLaughlin has sent out only two different starting lineups all season, and he only changed it after junior guard Lauren Whitlatch suffered a season-ending injury.
Regardless of who starts, this weekend showed that several players are likely to start getting more playing time in the coming weeks. Not only was Aghayere spectacular, but sophomore guard Ashley Russell and freshman guard Phoebe Sterba also gave glimpses of serious talent.
Russell recorded seven points in a career-high 28 minutes over Columbia and Sterba stepped up with seven points against Cornell. It is always encouraging to see bench players step up, but it’s especially important when your schedule is as brutal as the Ivy League schedule is. When you have multiple road doubleheaders within a month, depth is almost necessary for success.
Not only did Penn find some depth for the rest of this season, but it also might have found its answer to a question that has been on the back of everyone’s mind all year. How is Penn going to replace senior guard Kasey Chambers and reigning Ivy League Player of the Year Stipanovich?
It will certainly be no easy task, but this weekend showed that the Quakers have the personnel to be contenders in Ivy play for at least the next two years.
On top of Aghayere, Russell, and Sterba, who are all underclassmen, next year’s squad will also feature junior guard Beth Brzozowski, Nwokedi, junior guard Anna Ross, and Whitlach when she recovers from her injury. You hate to think so far ahead, but regardless of how this season shakes out, I’d be shocked if the Red and Blue weren’t the favorites to win it all next year.
So while nothing really changed this weekend in terms of expectations for this season — Penn entered and exited the weekend as the Ivy favorites — this weekend certainly gave Quaker fans a lot to look forward to for several years to come.