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Senior guard Phoebe Sterba originally wanted to play at Harvard, but she has spent the last four years loving every second of her Penn experience. 

Credit: Son Nguyen

Sometimes the best decisions are the ones we never saw coming. For Penn senior Phoebe Sterba, this has proven especially true.

Sterba, a Cleveland native, played basketball at Magnificat High School, an all-girls college preparatory school. Coming from a rigorous academic and athletic high school experience, Sterba was looking for a collegiate program that would offer the same challenges. While Penn might seem like an obvious choice for those criteria, it was not originally the school Sterba saw herself attending.

“I visited [Penn] once, and it was like a ‘snowpocalypse’ weekend,” Sterba said. “Everything was going wrong, and I was really dead-set on Harvard, so I didn’t consider other schools. But then I came to Penn again in April, and I don’t know what it was, but I was like, ‘I want to go here’.”

Once she came to Penn, Sterba began to contribute right away, as she appeared in 24 games off the bench during her freshman year. Although her talent alone would have impressed her coaches, Sterba’s willingness to grow and learn is what helped her take the next step forward. 

“As a freshman, she came in and was skilled, but she had to learn the college game and be patient,” coach Mike McLaughlin said. “She never really had to be patient in sports, but she learned a great deal about herself and how [basketball] should be played at this level.”

This willingness to learn has helped Sterba throughout her career, which has seen her grow from freshman role player to senior captain. That progression has helped Sterba experience all of the ups and downs that college basketball has to offer, which is something she uses to her advantage in her role as a team leader. 

Credit: Son Nguyen

 “I think her experience has really helped her,” McLaughlin said. “She has played a lot here, she has won a lot here, and she has been through some tough losses here, so I think she can kind of be that coach for us in the locker room after a tough day, game, or stretch.”

In addition to being a leader that her coaching staff can rely on, Sterba has also been a favorite among her teammates.

“Phoebe is a constant ray of sunshine and is the goofiest person I have ever met,” senior center Emily Anderson said. “It is impossible to be around her and not feel that positivity. She is also such a dedicated person on the court, and that sets a great example for us.”

While Sterba’s off-the-court presence has been her defining trait as a Quaker, teammates and coaches say that there is something even more unique about the senior.

“What I’ll really remember about her is her dad making it for every [home] game,” McLaughlin said. “He is out here early in the day with her shooting; it is something that bonds them together.”

Having a supporting figure in the stands has been an important factor in Sterba’s ability to remain calm in any situation on the court. Although her teammates and coaches have come to love the Sterba family tradition, Sterba herself sometimes cannot help but laugh at her father’s passion for basketball.

“I think he at times loves it more than I do,” Sterba said. “He always says, ‘You don’t understand, you play in the Cathedral of College Basketball.' But to know he is always going to be here for any game is more than I could ever ask him to do, and I don’t even ask him to do it.”

Sterba has been a consistent factor in Penn’s success over the past four seasons. At the same time, the senior has left a lasting impact on the program, as well as its players and coaches. However, if it were not for a chance second visit to campus, Sterba could have instead spent her four years elsewhere. 

With her final season for the Red and Blue is coming to a close, Sterba has been able to reflect on her sudden decision to become a Quaker.

“Penn has given me so many amazing opportunities on and off the court,” Sterba said. “It has given me so much that I never thought I would be able to experience, and to experience it with my best friends, that is the icing on the cake.”