The offseason is a time for preparation. As Penn women's basketball moved into a new chapter, without the services of a talented class that played their last games in Red and Blue last spring, the summer was also a time for looking ahead and finding the next class of Quaker leaders.
Coach Mike McLaughlin found that group in a trio of seniors, naming forwards Jordan Obi and Floor Toonders, and guard Michaela Stanfield Penn's captains for the upcoming season, in what he described as a relatively easy decision.
“I think this year was, more than any year, an amazing process of choosing captains,” he said. “We had three returning seniors that are incredibly dedicated, mature, and experienced in a lot of ways. Jordan being the best player in the program, Floor being an incredible, mature, professional young lady, and Mikaela Stanfield being the ultimate team player.”
Since being selected, the three captains have already stepped up to lead the team on and off the court. Following the departure of five seniors and the transition to a younger team, they see the urgency in taking a leadership role for their teammates, despite some of the added pressure and decreased room for error of this season.
“I feel like, whether you realize it or not, people are always watching what you do,” Stanfield said. “You just have to be aware of that, I think.”
Two of three captains have been stepping up despite suffering from injuries. Toonders and Stanfield will be contributing from the sidelines as the season begins, but McLaughlin believes that experience will empower them when they do return.
Sophomore guard Saniah Caldwell has already felt the impact of these seniors and attributes the captains’ successes so far to the uniquely challenging experiences they’ve had at Penn over the past four years.
“They've actually had a crazy experience at Penn,” she said. “They've experienced [COVID-19], but also have had plenty of basketball experience. They've really been great leaders for us on the court and are definitely showing all the other underclassmen and me the way.”
She also recognizes the captains’ excellence off of the court.
“They're just super thoughtful and caring,” she said. “They've been in our position, so they’re so welcoming because of that. They also all have very different personalities, so I think that just as a collective, that makes them a good team.”
All three captains take inspiration from last year’s captains — guards Mandy McGurk and Kayla Padilla — who set a precedent of leading by example and setting a high standard of behavior and performance for the underclassmen.
“Mandy was more of a vocal leader,” Obi said. “So Kayla was doing the little things really well, and Mandy was telling us on the sidelines what to do. The energy that they brought each day set a standard, and it was easy for the underclassmen and everyone to follow that.”
McLaughlin appreciates everything last year’s captains contributed to the program, but also sees value in this season's group having their own approaches to leadership and helping the team succeed.
“When you're talking about casting, you're also talking about developing leaders in life or what we're trying to do,” he said, “I don't want them to duplicate what someone else did. I want them to create their own way and use the tools that the others have given them.
When asked about what specific plans they have for the coming year, Obi highlighted plans for group bonding. Stanfield agrees with the value of these activities, saying that some of her favorite basketball memories involve growing closer to her teammates.
“We're trying to do a variety of activities across all four classes, whether we're supporting other sports, or we love doing Hill dinners every once in a while,” she said.
The team's goals for the season include making it back to the Ivy League Tournament and beating its biggest rival, Princeton, which eliminated the Quakers in the semifinals of last year's Tournament. When asked how he feels about his three seniors’ last season in Red and Blue, McLaughlin also said he’d love to see them get back to the Ivy League Tournament, but he wants them to enjoy every day along the way.
“At some point, the basketball's gonna stop bouncing,” he said. “I want them to enjoy the process of their senior year and not think about what the end’s going to look like or what tomorrow’s going to bring. That's the power that gives you the chance to celebrate every day, and I want them to enjoy it.”