The Quakers have their work cut out for them this weekend.
Coming off of three consecutive losses, Penn women’s basketball will look to break the streak this weekend against Harvard on Friday, then Dartmouth on Saturday. The Quakers are entering pure Ivy season, with only Ancient Eight opponents left.
The Red and Blue (10-4, 0-1 Ivy) dropped their first Ivy game in early January against the Tigers (13-1, 1-0), but plenty of season remains, including a Princeton rematch, for redemption.
Last year, both of Penn’s first two games against the Crimson (10-5, 1-1 Ivy) went into overtime, with each team coming away with a win on their home court. In the Ivy League Tournament, however, the Quakers walked away with a handy 91-62 win. The Quakers will look to override Harvard’s home court advantage in their first game of the weekend on Friday.
Freshman Kayla Padilla has been a dominant force for the Red and Blue, improving game by game. Her performance against Princeton brought her to a career and season-high of 27 points. Padilla has had eight games in which she has had 20 or more point games. However, in Penn’s most recent game against Temple, she hit a season low of eight points. Padilla’s rebound back to her usual level of play will be a crucial aspect of the coming weekend.
“Your first Ivy Weekend as a freshman is always interesting, because you’re seeing a lot of things for the first time,” coach Mike McLaughlin said. “I have no doubt she’ll respond the same way she has with everything we’ve done.”
The Crimson will surely feel the departure of Katie Benzan, their leader in points and assists last year. After a record-breaking junior season, Benzan decided to step away from Harvard women's basketball for her senior year. Instead of completing her four years of athletic eligibility in the Ivy League, she will graduate from Harvard and play in the 2020-2021 season at Texas. As Benzan was a leading scorer in each of her games against Penn last year, the Quakers' defense will likely not miss Benzan’s presence in Ivy League basketball. Freshman Lola Mullaney has taken Benzan’s spot as Harvard’s leading scorer.
The next stop on their New England journey will be in New Hampshire to take on the Big Green (7-8, 1-1) on Saturday. Last year, the Quakers were victorious twice, although their second win was by a tight four-point margin. Dartmouth beat out Harvard in early January by one point.
“We really have to focus on defense, just raising our level of intensity on defense and playing people tighter,” junior center Eleah Parker said.
Senior captain Kendall Grasela will also continue her impactful season against the Crimson. Grasela has been averaging 30.5 minutes per game in her last season as a Quaker.
Dartmouth’s scoring leadership comes from senior Annie McKenna, who is currently averaging 12.9 points a game. McKenna also boasts a .735 foul shot percentage, making it imperative for the Quakers to keep her off of the free throw line.
The long trip up to Cambridge, Mass. and Hanover, N.H. is a foreboding one, and if the Quakers can take down both Ivy opponents despite the road-trip adversity, they’ll set themselves up for a successful rest of the season.