As the days of summer wind down, it’s common for Penn students to take vacations before returning to school — and one group of Quakers just took one that they’ll remember for a long time.
Penn women’s basketball recently completed an 11-day trip to Spain and France, with stops in Madrid, Toledo, Valencia, Barcelona, and Paris. Between the sightseeing and traveling were three games, in which the Quakers went 2-1.
After flying into Madrid and taking a day to settle in, the Red and Blue squared off in the first game against Club Baloncesto Alcobendas, in which they fell 70-60. But the Quakers bounced back and finished the trip stronger, drubbing the Barcelona All-Stars 91-35 before taking the finale against Bretigny Select 91-47 outside of Paris.
That quick rebound was something the coaching staff took note of.
“Overall, in some areas I was very pleased, and some areas we have a lot of work to do,” coach Mike McLaughlin said. “But the growth, from the first day to the very end, was very good. We finished strong, we finished against probably the better team we played out there, and I thought we played well. We struggled early, there’s no doubt about it.”
Sophomore guard Katie Kinum and senior forward Princess Aghayere were the two standout players on the trip. Kinum was the leading scorer, averaging 20.3 points per game, including a 32-point outburst in the final matchup. As the team looks to replace a pair of starting guards in 2018 graduates Anna Ross and Lauren Whitlatch, Kinum’s strong performance was a sign of good things to come.
“I thought Katie Kinum took the best step of anyone … I thought she was terrific, particularly the last game. She was making shots, she was positioning herself on the floor to get open in the right spots, which she struggled with a year ago,” McLaughlin said.
As for Aghayere, she finished second on the team in scoring with 16 points per game. Much like Kinum, Aghayere is looking at increased minutes due to the graduation of Michelle Nwokedi, and McLaughlin liked what he saw from her on the trip.
“Maturity, I think there’s that sense that there’s no one in her way, there’s nothing that she hasn’t heard that she’s going to hear again,” he said. “She’s taking everything now, and she looks like a more mature, complete player.”
But for the majority of the trip, basketball took a back seat to experiencing the culture and bonding as a team. In each city they visited, the Quakers made sure to take in the scenery, enjoy the local cuisine, and explore.
From eating paella in Valencia to stopping the bus frequently to take pictures in Toledo, each player came away with a different take on what their favorite part of the trip was.
“I really liked France, I really liked Paris,” Kinum said. "I love the food, steak is one of my favorite foods, crepes, you can’t really go wrong. I just think it was really cool, we’ve always seen pictures of the Eiffel Tower, to see it in person, to see it light up.”
In Paris, they took sightseeing to the next level by turning it into an Amazing Race style competition. The players, coaches, and families split up into five teams, and raced to go from landmark to landmark to see who could get there the fastest. Naturally, it got competitive.
“I was dripping sweat, running through Paris, trying to understand everything,” senior guard Ashley Russell said. “We had to take public transportation, didn’t know what any of the signs said. We were standing on the train at the door, cause it was 11:58 and we had to be back at the hotel by 12:00, [so] we just sprinted through the streets.”
All in all, the trip served as a wonderful opportunity for the players to not only grow as players, but learn and experience what life is like in another country. McLaughlin summed it up best:
“I don’t think we could have asked for a better result.”