For the first time since March, meaningful college basketball will be played at the Palestra.
The regular season Ivy League champs are back in action, and they’re ready to win even more games this year. Last season, Penn women’s basketball shared the regular season title with Princeton before being handed a loss by the Tigers in the Ivy League Tournament. However, there’s a long road ahead before March, and that road begins with a home game against Siena on Saturday afternoon.
The Quakers opened their season last year against Siena (0-1), and they were able to edge out a 58-51 win on the road. Opening their season with a win is important for the team to build momentum for the start of the season.
With it being the first home game for either Penn basketball team and the unveiling of the team’s Ivy League Championship banner, the Palestra is bound to be celebratory and filled with emotion. However, there is still a game that needs to be played, and from the opening whistle, the celebration will need to be replaced with intensity.
“It’s always important to get the first game on our floor. It’s a day we’re celebrating [with] last year’s banner, a lot of emotions, Homecoming, and it’s just going to be a really great day,” coach Mike McLaughlin said. “Starting off well is always important, but I also want them to cherish what they’ve accomplished in the past and blend that in hopefully with a good performance.”
With the graduation of key seniors in guard Ashley Russell and forward Princess Aghayere, the Quakers are going to need to get offensive production from different sources. Russell led the team in minutes while Aghayere was third in that category, so their presence will certainly be missed.
“[Ashley and Princess] were two big pieces, especially when it came to rebounding, pure strength, and intensity,” junior center Eleah Parker said. “[We're] definitely looking for a couple of players to step up this year and fill those roles, and [we're] just putting an emphasis for everybody to rebound and make those hustle plays.”
A large part of Penn’s offense is going to come from Parker, who will look to build on her dominant college career. With Ivy League Rookie of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year awards under her belt, she is a candidate to compete for Player of the Year this season.
“The growth that Eleah has made off the court to right now has been really impressive. She has made unbelievable strides for someone who has been as good as she was her first two years. She’s played the best basketball I’ve ever seen her play,” McLaughlin said. “She’s such a better leader than she was a year ago. Everything about her has matured.”
Penn’s senior captains, guards Phoebe Sterba and Kendall Grasela and center Emily Anderson, are also going to be a large part in guiding this team throughout the season.
“They have displayed so much leadership already, and definitely our underclass looks up to them for leadership and guidance on and off the court,” Parker said.
Their leadership is going to be necessary, as the freshman class will be folded into the mix immediately. Leading the first-years is guard Kayla Padilla, who McLaughlin confirmed will be in the starting lineup on Saturday. The next freshman likely to receive playing time soon is forward Silke Milliman, from whom McLaughlin has seen continued progression.
With a passionate Homecoming crowd filling the Palestra and Penn unveiling its banner, a win for the Quakers would be the icing on the cake this Saturday.
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