Penn women’s basketball has started the season on a mission.
Through their first eight games, the Quakers are 7-1 with their only loss coming at the hands of ACC powerhouse Duke. Penn’s hot start has included a strong start to Big 5 play, as the Red and Blue have a pair of road wins against Saint Joseph's and La Salle.
A major factor in the Quakers’ success has been the emergence of their young impact players. One of these players is Kayla Padilla, a freshman guard who leads the Red and Blue in points per game and has been named Ivy League Rookie of the Week three times in the young season. Another is sophomore forward Kennedy Suttle, who after missing most of last season with an injury has emerged as a constant starter, leading Penn in rebounds per game with 6.1.
The play of Padilla and Suttle has impressed their teammates, who cite the young players’ performances as a major factor in this early season success.
“Kayla is young, but she doesn’t play like a freshman, she plays like a senior,” senior guard Kendall Grasela said. “Her basketball IQ is so high, and [it’s] the same with Kennedy. She didn’t play a lot last year [due to injury], so it’s almost like her freshman year all over again. We don’t have those freshman mistakes, and we’re a really experienced team even if some of our players are on the younger side.”
Penn’s veteran, returning players have also had a large impact on the team’s success this season. Senior guard Phoebe Sterba has been a perimeter scoring threat, and All-Ivy junior center Eleah Parker has picked up where she left off last season as a dominant force in the post. Grasela has also played an important role on both sides of the ball, as she leads the Quakers in both assists and steals.
According to coach Mike McLaughlin, both the improvement of Penn’s returning players and the impact of the team’s new additions have helped the Red and Blue overcome their key losses in personnel.
“Losing Princess [Aghayere] and Ashley Russell from last year left us a big gap, so we had some holes to fill,” McLaughlin said. “I think we’ve filled it with the improvement of the returning players, and the addition [of new players] has certainly helped.”
While Penn’s hot start has been the result of its strong play on the court, Grasela says that the team’s success comes from its off-the-court bond.
“We are definitely close, and we’re together all the time, and I think that that is definitely a big factor [in our success],” Grasela said. “We spend probably more time off the court together than we do on the court, and we’re on the court three hours a day.”
Spending time together both on and off the court has helped the Red and Blue keep their energy high and their goals in line.
"I think that we have this common energy and vibe about us that is really persistent and strong throughout the entire season,” Grasela said. “We have great chemistry on and off the court and that chemistry brings that energy, that vibe, and that contagious [desire] to want to win.”
The Quakers’ hot start to this season reinforces preseason predictions that Penn will be one of the major contenders for the Ivy title. The Red and Blue still have several nonconference contests before their Jan. 11 meeting with Princeton to kick off Ivy play, including a pair of games in Honolulu over winter break. While their focus remains on these few remaining nonconference contests, the Red and Blue are excited to use Ivy play to prove that their early season success is no fluke.
“I’m really excited for Ivy play; I think we have a really strong team this year,” Grasela said. “We’re so competitive, and we sort of have this edge about us that we just keep wanting more, and I think that will carry us pretty far.”