The faces might be different but the expectations are the same.
Last year, Penn women’s basketball went 22-9, made the Ivy League championship, and notched a win in the first round of the WNIT. Yet, after graduating first team All-Ivy forward Michelle Nwokedi, there were some questions as to how the team would adjust this season with a new front-court partner for sophomore center Eleah Parker.
From the jump, coach Mike McLaughlin had a plan and that plan centered around senior forward Princess Aghayere.
“We hoped Princess would fall into Michelle’s role … and [so far] it has played out the way we thought it would … she’s ready to be a starter and play upper level minutes.”
Coming into the season, Aghayere has had plenty of game experience for the Red and Blue, appearing in 85 games across her three years. However, in every one of those games, she came off the bench.
“Previous seasons I was trying to fill a role, bring energy, or get a rebound and follow Michelle’s lead,” Aghayere said.
This season, the senior forward has started all six games for the Quakers and has seen a dramatic improvement in her numbers. Now averaging career highs across the board (21.8 minutes, 9.3 points, and 6.3 rebounds), she has been one of the key players in Penn’s 4-2 start to the season.
“She’s done great, she’s had some scoring days and some rebounding days," McLaughlin said. "It has been a smooth adjustment for her."
Both McLaughlin and Aghayere look to the first game of the season against Siena, where she scored six points and grabbed five rebounds, as a turning point for her.
“She made some big baskets at Siena, she stood up to the challenge out of the gate,” McLaughlin said.
“The first game was different than what I was used to last year, but it was an exciting opportunity and I learned a lot,” Aghayere added.
Still, the impact Aghayere has made as a starter goes beyond the numbers. Taking the lessons she learned from three seasons of coming off the bench, the first-year starter has strived to bring the same energy with a newfound mix of senior leadership.
“She’s an instinctive player … she likes to naturally react to the ball, [and we want her to] attack the glass consistently, run the floor consistently, and score the ball around the rim," McLaughlin said. "She can affect the game no matter if she scores four or 14 points.”
According to Aghayere, adjusting to the leadership role has been more difficult than the increase in responsibility on the court.
“Stepping into that senior role [has been the biggest adjustment]. I’m the person that the underclassmen look up to now, so I need to continue to work hard.”
But on the court as well, Aghayere has embraced her increased responsibilities.
"Being able to influence the game in the last two minutes when the game is on the line [is the best part about starting] … that way I can walk off the court without any regrets.”
As always, Penn has high expectations this season, and the strong play of new starter Princess Aghayere has gone a long way toward keeping the program on the right track with Ivy League competition right around the corner.
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