Penn women's basketball took a tropical working vacation to the Bahamas last week to play in the Junkanoo Jam. The Quakers lost, 66-55, to a strong Georgia Tech side on Thanksgiving before beating Missouri State, 65-60, the next day. With back-to-back games, we had the chance to observe the Quakers' first full tests of the season. Here's what we learned:
Freshmen proving they have what it takes
Everyone expected Eleah Parker to have an instant impact for her team from the moment she was listed in the starting lineup for the Quakers’ first game at Binghamton. What’s been surprising is how quickly fellow rookie Katie Kinum has ascended to the top of Penn’s rotation.
After seeing just 16 total minutes of action in Penn’s first two games, Kinum played for 28 and 24 minutes in the team’s two games in the Bahamas. In Penn’s game against Georgia Tech, in which every other player struggled, Kinum had her breakout, scoring 17 points to keep the Quakers alive even when her teammates looked off the beat.
Kinum didn’t light up the floor quite as much in Penn’s second game of the Junkanoo Jam, but she was efficient — in her two games this Thanksgiving, she shot 64 percent from the field, including 5-for-6 from three. As her confidence grows, Penn will delight in having a successor to senior guard Anna Ross, the backcourt player currently responsible for taking charge in tense games.
And in the frontcourt, of course, Penn has a pro-level player in Parker who is already starting every game at center. Her talent is clear to see; on Thanksgiving against Georgia Tech, the rookie scored 10 of Penn’s first 12 points. She still needs more experience to find consistency in her game and to adapt fully to the college game, but her first four games for Penn have shown that her floor is high, and her ceiling is the sky.
Chemistry remains a questions due to roster turnover from last season
Whenever the Quakers have struggled this season, the biggest reasons seems to be that they haven’t played as a team. It’s still unclear how seamlessly Parker can fit in alongside senior forward Michelle Nwokedi when both players rely on dominance in the post for their productivity. Parker’s lower-than expected minute count in Bimini is a sign that there’s no easy solution in sight at the moment.
Likewise, the insertion of junior Ashley Russell and reinsertion of senior Lauren Whitlatch back into the lineup have been positive moves for Penn but have simultaneously destabilized the backcourt, which previously had a virtual player-coach hybrid in Kasey Chambers to rely on. The guards gave up turnovers left and right against Georgia Tech and in the first half against Missouri State, but once they finally got on the same page, they hardly put a foot wrong.
It’s the first time in two years Penn has had to deal with a significantly changed lineup, and it hasn’t been an easy transition. But if the Quakers can find the right balance and chemistry, then they should have no issue finding a third straight Ivy League title.
Whitlatch is back and playing better than ever
When senior shooter Lauren Whitlatch went down last season with a knee injury, Penn lost a crucial two-way player who made a difference every time she stepped on the court. The Quakers survived without her, but it’s clear with her back in the lineup now just how important she is to the squad.
Against Missouri State on Friday night, Whitlatch drained six three-pointers en route to a team-high 18 points. Her 50-percent efficiency was remarkable, but her composure stood out even more. Barring any other injury, the senior could easily cement herself as one of the Quakers’ top-two or three scorers and clutch players over the course of the season.
Program fulfilling its promise
Penn women’s basketball is a shining example of what Penn Athletics can achieve. Not just focused on results, the program has put a clear, demonstrable emphasis on personal development and an enjoyable college experience — goals not every student-athlete on campus gets to enjoy as fully.
The team’s trip to the Bahamas was the perfect bonding and growing experience. Between the coaches and the parents, the players got to feel a strong family atmosphere in an exotic location that allowed them to have adventures and high quality basketball games. If the Quakers had beaten Georgia Tech on Thanksgiving, after all, they would have played No. 8 Baylor — a huge game, especially considering Penn is already set to play another top-ten team in Notre Dame just next week.
Above all else, there just seems to be a vibe around the team that few other programs in Penn Athletics replicate. The players love being there. The coaches love interacting with their players, and vice versa. Seemingly everyone has bought into the program, and that shows in the results. This investment in the student-athletes is almost unparalleled at Penn, and it’s clearly paying dividends.