This year's Ivy League preseason poll ranked Penn women's basketball tied with Princeton for first place. The Quakers are projected to be right in the running for an Ivy League championship, and it’s relatively uncommon for freshmen to immediately step in and contribute to such a strong college program. However, freshmen Kayla Padilla and Silke Milliman look ready to make an impact right away.
Last year, freshmen weren’t huge contributors for Penn. No first-year player averaged more than 10 minutes per game. However, with the graduation of seniors Ashley Russell and Princess Aghayere, that could change this season.
“Coach [Mike McLaughlin] says no one player completely replaces another. Ashley was a great player and a great scorer,” Padilla said. “I’m gonna try to score as much as I can, because I feel like that’s one of my strengths.”
Padilla, a guard, cites her offensive versatility as her biggest strength. She averaged 19 points as a senior in high school and was named a 2019 McDonald's All-American nominee. She finished her high school career with 1,907 career points. Though she is only 5-foot-9, she has little trouble scoring.
“If we were going to start the season tomorrow, Kayla’d be right out there in our first five,” McLaughlin said. “She’s confident. She’s got a unique skill set. She can score all three ways. She can shoot the three, she can get to the basket, [and] she can get to the free-throw line.”
Milliman brings a different set of skills.
“[My biggest strength is] my speed, in terms of running the floor and in transition. I’m often a lot faster than people at my height or that play my position,” Milliman said.
A 6-foot-1 forward, Milliman set program records at her high school for rebounds and blocks. What sets her apart is her ability to use her height and speed to run the floor and get easy baskets before the defense gets set.
Milliman’s efforts in high school earned her a 70th overall ranking in her recruiting class by ESPN, making her easily the most highly touted member of this Penn class and one of the most highly touted recruits in recent memory.
The transitions for both Padilla and Milliman have been pretty seamless. Part of that is due to their on-court ability, but part of it is also attributable to the efforts of the team and the coaching staff.
Early in the year, McLaughlin organized a Navy Seal Boot Camp training not only for physical fitness but for team bonding as well.
“We had to army crawl across the whole field [at Penn Park]," Padilla said. "We had to carry our teammates on our backs, we had to carry heavy stones, things like that. It was intense."
In addition to the on-court and on-field activities, the team has made an effort to get closer to each other.
“It’s just little things. The team makes an effort to go out and eat together,” Padilla said.
Penn's season opens on Nov. 9 at home against Siena, and the team's freshmen will almost definitely play a big role.
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