After missing the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2015, Penn women’s basketball fans can now see who stands in the Quakers’ way of returning to the Big Dance.
Two days ago, coach Mike McLaughlin announced the 2018-2019 schedule for the Quakers, which features a bevy of competitive non-conference opponents before the beginning of Ivy League play starting in February.
Penn's marquee non-conference matchup will be against defending national champion Notre Dame, who the Quakers face on the road in just their second game of the season on Nov. 12. November's duel with the Fighting Irish will be the team's second in a row, having lost to the would-be NCAA champs, 66-54, at home. The game will feature a Final Four hero in senior guard Arike Ogunbowale, who hit two straight buzzer beaters in as many games against Connecticut and Mississippi State.
Like she does to most teams in the country, Ogunowale could give Penn fits, especially considering the graduation of last year's starting backcourt in Anna Ross and Lauren Whitlatch as well as backup Beth Brzozowski. This year, expect senior guard Ashley Russell and the team's European trip standout, sophomore Katie Kinum, to take turns handling Ogunowale.
Additionally, the Red and Blue will also square off against two other NCAA tournament teams in Maine and Big Five rival Villanova in the non-conference slate.
The Quakers will begin their Big Five title defense against St. Joseph's on Nov. 15, who they beat last year on the road for only the third time in school history. Unlike Penn, the Hawks will return a majority of their starting lineup this season, leaving them in a position likely to improve on their 57-50 loss to the Red and Blue.
Two weeks later, Penn will participate in the Navy Classic, where the team will travel to face both the Midshipmen and Maine over the course of two days in Annapolis, Md. Like the Quakers, Navy also made the Women’s NIT last season after posting over 20 wins on the year. Maine received an automatic bid after winning the America East conference championship.
Prior to Ivy League play, Penn will host Division III team Haverford College, which will serve a similar function as Gwynedd Mercy did last season as a final tuneup before the brunt of conference play kicks off.
After what should be a likely win, the Quakers’ next 13 games will be against Ivy League opponents, with a winter break game against Princeton representing the only conference game not in this stretch.
The Red and Blue will have a chance to get revenge on Princeton on Jan. 5 following last year's Ivy League Tournament championship loss. Unfortunately for Penn, the Tigers return 2018 Ivy League Player of the Year in junior forward Bella Alarie, who is likely to build on her 13.3 points, 9.4 rebounds, 2.6 blocks per game sophomore season. The duel between Alarie and Penn's presumptive star for 2018-19, sophomore center Eleah Parker, should produce one of the greatest spectacles of the Quakers' campaign.
All in all, Penn will have its hands full both inside and outside the Ivy League as it works to get back to its championship winning ways.
All comments eligible for publication in Daily Pennsylvanian, Inc. publications.