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Penn women's basketball sophomore Kayla Padilla has not let the pandemic slow her down — both on and off the court.

Credit: Gary Lin

It has certainly been an offseason like no other for one of the most prolific freshmen to grace Penn women’s basketball.

With her dazzling freshman campaign cut short just before the Ivy League Tournament, sophomore guard Kayla Padilla’s focus this offseason has been on taking care of unfinished business.

Hailing from Torrance, Calif., Padilla first picked up a basketball at the age of four and hasn’t looked back since. She earned no shortage of accolades playing for Bishop Montgomery High School before arriving in Philadelphia, and had college recruiters flocking to her door after amassing 1,907 points over the course of her high school career. She earned a nomination for the prestigious McDonald’s All-American Game shortly before arriving on campus, and her success carried over to the college level right away.

Padilla knew she wanted to play somewhere where she could contribute immediately, at a program with a high level of competition mixed with elite academics. Penn was the perfect fit, and after committing in the summer before her senior year, Padilla has taken the Ivy League by storm.

She earned the respect of her teammates and coaches in the preseason and was thrust into a starting role right away. Bursting onto the scene as a freshman, Padilla averaged 17.4 points per game on her way to earning first team All-Ivy as well as Ivy League Rookie of the Year honors. 

Undoubtedly, one of Padilla’s biggest strengths is her ability to put the ball in the basket. She impressed as a multi-faceted scorer, but what stood out most was her shooting from beyond the arc. Padilla’s 73 made three pointers were good for the fourth-most in a single season in Penn history, despite the coronavirus pandemic canceling the postseason.

“My shooting game has been something that I have been developing from high school and onwards,” Padilla said. “It’s really been about getting on a shooting machine and getting up a lot of quality shots that can translate to a game.”

Unlike many other athletes at Penn, Padilla and the majority of her teammates are not living in Philadelphia. It has been an adjustment for her and the rest of the team during an unprecedented offseason working entirely remotely. Despite the struggles of this prolonged offseason, the coaches and athletes alike have made the most of their resources to ensure that whenever they do get back on the court, they are prepared to compete.

“Our coaches have been sending us workouts and some film to watch, so it is really on our own accord.” Padilla said. “They are holding us accountable to complete our workouts on our own time.”

Padilla has worked at keeping her offensive skills sharp, but her main focus this offseason has been working on becoming a stronger rebounder and defender. Without the innumerable resources she is accustomed to at Penn, she has had to change some of her habits in order to improve as a basketball player while managing a full workload as a student.

“It has been hard to work on those skills without much competition,” Padilla said. “But in terms of getting my conditioning and lifting right, it has been able to help me improve my rebounding and defense.”

Earning All-Ivy honors as a freshman is no easy task. Padilla had very few flaws in her game, but the elite are always able to search within to find their weaknesses and turn them into strengths. A lifelong Los Angeles Lakers fan, Padilla has seen what it takes to be great and her work ethic reflects that.

Living at home this semester, Padilla has had to make adjustments after losing many of the resources at Penn. She has placed emphasis on going to her local park to play more often to get some sense of live competition. The workouts sent from the coaching staff have been a big emphasis for Padilla, but she has done everything possible to exceed the expectations of the coaching staff, most prominently to accomplish goals she has set for next season.

“We all want to get to the Ivy League Tournament and win a championship,” Padilla said. “That’s always our goal, but more so this year because we didn’t have that opportunity last year, so we’re all eager to be in that position this year.”

With both Padilla and All-Ivy senior center Eleah Parker returning this season, the Quakers are poised for a run at the Ivy League Championship and an NCAA Tournament bid. The Red and Blue know the talent they have and are eager to get back on the court. Padilla and other leaders on the team have taken responsibility for holding the team accountable.

Added strength and conditioning this offseason could help Padilla make the jump from the best freshman in the Ivy League to one of the best players in the entire country.