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Senior center and co-captain Emily Anderson has grown into a leader on and off the court.

Credit: Son Nguyen

The transition from high school to college can be difficult for many athletes, but they are bound to adapt and find their place on and off the court. 

When women’s basketball senior center and captain Emily Anderson came to Penn in 2016, she was caught off guard by how challenging her adjustment was.

“She was kind of like that lost freshman walking around in the dark trying to figure it out,” Penn coach Mike McLaughlin said. “Playing against similar-sized players she struggled.”

At that time, the Quakers boasted two of the best front-court players in the league: Sydney Stipanovich and Michelle Nwokedi, who Anderson had to face off against daily in practice. Her 6’4’’ frame, which helped her draw scholarship offers from high-major programs like Kentucky and West Virginia, no longer presented the same advantage that it did for her in high school.

“I came in kind of at the bottom of the barrel,” Anderson said. “It was definitely the most challenging thing I ever walked into.”

Anderson was coming off of a senior year in high school which saw her average 13.7 points and 10 rebounds. However, the transition to collegiate play called for greater adjustment from Anderson.

In her freshman season, Anderson played in 16 games off the bench for the Quakers. She played only 55 minutes on the court that season, but she stayed the course and worked on her game.

Credit: Son Nguyen

She had chosen to play at Penn because of the team’s positive atmosphere, and indeed, it was support from her teammates that helped her through her transition to college. Anderson’s teammates have always been supportive, making it one of the highlights of her career at Penn. The family environment was something that Anderson felt from the moment she stepped on campus. 

“It was immediately like, ‘wow I want to be a part of that.’ These girls are so close, there’s nothing fake there,” Anderson said. “I came here and got to build that same culture and be a part of that.”

Her in-game role on the court remained limited during her sophomore and junior seasons; she played just 49 and 119 minutes total in each season, respectively. But she found other ways to make a strong impact on her teammates off the court. 

“She's a great friend to have. No matter what if I call her, I know she’ll help me with anything, and that’s just a great characteristic of her,” senior guard and fellow captain Kendall Grasela said.

Anderson’s contributions did not go unnoticed by her coaches, either. Before this season started, she was named one of the team’s three captains.

“She’s a great leader,” Grasela said. “She’s a woman of few words but her words are very inspiring and powerful and get people going."

Anderson's playing time has remained limited this season, but she has managed to carve out a consistent role for herself backing up junior All-Ivy center Eleah Parker. Parker has appeared in every game and has finished with double-digit scoring totals on three separate occasions.

With just about a month left in her collegiate basketball career, Anderson’s mind is set on one ultimate goal: winning another Ivy League championship. Penn won the title in her freshman year but has fallen short to Princeton in the past two seasons. Another ring would be the perfect way to close out her time as a Quaker.

"We’re always going for that championship,” Anderson said. “We shoot big. We’re not looking too far ahead, we’re thinking about our next game, but we have our main goal in our mind at all times.”

But no matter how their season ends, Anderson will leave knowing that she has made an incredible impact on Penn women’s basketball over her four years.

“I just remember meeting her, and she was a lanky girl, and I thought, 'this girl’s going to be really good,'” Grasela said. “She had so much potential. I loved growing up with her, growing with her, and playing with her these last four years.”