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Women's Basketball Senior Eleah Parker was disheartened by the loss of her senior season but will go on to play her extra year of eligibility at the University of Virginia. Credit: Zihan Chen

Penn women’s basketball senior center Eleah Parker was disheartened by the cancellation of the Ivy League’s season this year, but the silver lining is that she will be able to continue her basketball career for one more year, playing at the University of Virginia.

Four years ago, the decision for Parker to come to Penn was an easy one. Despite having offers from top programs around the country, she committed the day after her official visit and was excited to get started with her new Penn family.

“Being here with the players and the coaching staff and the people I was going to meet, I felt so welcome and comfortable,” Parker said. “I could just be myself, and that’s what I really appreciated. So that’s honestly why. The academics and the people I was surrounded with, so it was an easy decision to choose Penn.”

Penn women’s basketball coach Mike McLaughlin commented that one of the motivating factors in Parker’s recruitment process was a strong sense of family that was a trademark of the program.  

Over the past four years, Eleah has grown into a leader for the Quakers. Even now, despite not being able to compete, she is continuing to show up for her team to help mold younger players into leaders.  

“Her [Penn] career is gonna end, but she continues to give us everything she has until the last day,” McLaughlin said.

On her way to winning Ivy League Rookie of the Year and a conference championship with her team, Parker’s basketball game has improved exactly as McLaughlin had hoped. 

“She’s grown obviously, she’s a dominant player in terms of her size and strength and athletic ability, but she really started to grow her game here. She was expanding further away from the basket, you know she became a better shooter, she was a tremendous defender such that she made everyone about her better.”

Eleah won't be able to pursue the Ivy League Player of the Year award this season, but nonetheless, she looks back very positively on her four years as a Quaker.  

Once the Ivy League announced that it would be allowing seniors to come back for an additional year, Parker had already been about two months in on the recruiting process. She added Penn to the mix of schools she was looking at, but it was not meant to be.

Part of the reason it didn't work out for her to come back to Penn, as well as for other Ivy League senior athletes, is the fact that many graduate program deadlines had already passed by the time the option for athletes became available.

Despite having difficulties making “official visits” online, after factoring in academics, basketball, and personal relationships, Eleah decided that pursuing a master’s in public health while also playing basketball at Virginia was the best option for her. 

The personal relationships at Virginia clinched the deal for Parker. Women’s basketball coach Tina Thompson played professionally as a post player, so Eleah is excited to get to improve her game under her. Additionally, Parker will be accompanied by another Ivy League transfer player — McKenna Dale from Brown — who she became close with over the past four years.

Going into the competitive ACC, Eleah is already looking ahead to what she can improve in her play. This includes focusing on her face-up game, getting more comfortable attacking the basket, pushing out toward the mid- and high-post, and extending her range with jumpers and three-pointers. 

It’s this hard work and growth that has made her past four years at Penn unforgettable.

“She had an outstanding career here and I want to celebrate her. She is someone that was a focal point of our program for three years,” McLaughlin said. “I am indebted to her for what she has done for our program. I’ve been here for around 12 years, and she is definitely one of the top five players that I’ve had a chance to coach.”