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Coach Mike McLaughlin hasn't seen his team in person since March.

Credit: Chase Sutton

Maintaining motivation is tough for anybody during the coronavirus pandemic, but it’s even more challenging for Penn athletes, many of whom don’t know if they’ll ever play in another game. 

For Penn women’s basketball senior guard Michae Jones, the transition has been especially difficult. Jones, a key contributor who appeared in every game the last two seasons off the bench, was poised to finally secure a spot in the starting lineup, but now that day may never come.

In July, the Ivy League canceled all athletics until at least Jan. 1, putting the status of the basketball season up in the air and leaving athletes scrambling for answers. 

“Basketball has taken up so much of my time at Penn, and without basketball, I’ve kind of lost my identity,” Jones said. 

Although Jones and her senior teammates would love to be able to practice as a team and compete in games again, they have been trying to remain positive and have had some positive takeaways from this extended break from organized basketball. 

“I want to focus on the things that I can change right now, getting better in other places in my life such as my social life, mental health, getting enough sleep, and just staying optimistic,” Jones said.

There is still a chance that the Ivy League will resume play at some point before the seniors graduate, so coach Mike McLaughlin is making sure that his team is staying prepared for whatever comes its way. 

McLaughlin has designated four players to be “accountability leaders” throughout this pandemic, who rotate in two-week periods to be in charge of either the strength, skill, or conditioning training. Additionally, one member is in charge of “championship behavior,” making sure that the Quakers go above and beyond what other teams are doing. 

The team also meets frequently over Zoom for conditioning and other training, as well as to discuss issues of social injustice, an area that the team bonded over throughout the summer. 

“We have to have a lot of strength within each individual to be motivated, get better, stronger, faster, so when we do play again we’ll be in the best position possible,” McLaughlin said.

Even though McLaughlin estimates that around 60% of his team is back on campus now, they still do not have access to the Palestra or any other Penn courts and do not have the ability to meet up in person as a team. 

“I have not physically seen them since March,” McLaughlin said. 

Strength and conditioning coach Stephen Brindle has sent the players on campus a list of gyms in Philadelphia that are open that they can purchase memberships to for the purpose of strength and basketball training.

While Jones hasn’t been able to play a pickup game in months, she is optimistic that she and some of her teammates will be able to do so soon at an outdoor court near Penn’s campus.

One area where Penn has an advantage over some of its competitors is in the connection it has with its incoming athletes. Most of the freshmen committed last fall, meaning that they were able to visit the campus and meet their teammates before the area was shut down. 

However, McLaughlin admitted that it is possible that if the season happens this year, the freshmen may have a tougher time receiving playing time than usual because of all of the in-person training they have missed. 

Another issue that McLaughlin has encountered has been recruiting future classes. 

While all teams are unable to bring talent to campus, the Quakers have been hit especially hard because many of their selling points come on-campus — including the beauty of the school and the showcasing of the bond among the teammates — which are challenging to convey online. 

Whenever the Quakers do take the court again, they will look to dethrone reigning champion Princeton and re-establish themselves as the best in the Ivy League.