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Senior forward Jordan Obi attempts a layup against Princeton during the Ivy Madness semifinals on Mar. 15.

Credit: Sonali Chandy

Sometimes, no matter how hard you fight, no matter how much you care, you can’t stop history from repeating itself.

In what turned out to be the final game of the season for Penn women’s basketball, the Quakers turned in a masterclass of a performance against Princeton in the Ivy Madness semifinals — but it just wasn’t enough. The Quakers showcased some of their fiercest defense of the year at all the right times, but Princeton’s dominant rebounding and second-half shooting proved to be the difference. The Quakers ultimately fell 59-54, an impressive showing against the top-seeded Tigers, but an end to the 2023-2024 season nonetheless.

Taken game by game, a season is a collection of many smaller moments. However, regardless of the highs and lows, wins and losses, the ending is the defining moment in everyone’s mind. How it ended for Penn was quite familiar, as it marks the third straight campaign in which the Red and Blue couldn’t push past Princeton. Despite that familiar sting of tiger claws leaving a last impression, the Quakers shouldn’t let their Groundhog Day ending define them.

The team improved greatly throughout the season, and demonstrated such against the Tigers. Losing by double digits to Princeton just under a week prior, Penn rapidly improved in their preparation for their Ivy semifinal. Every player brought their utmost defensive intensity, as evident from the 21 turnovers the Tigers coughed up. Offensively, the Quakers executed well throughout the game, setting the stage for a thrilling final frame.

The fourth quarter played out like a battle scene. Both sides traded blows as the score began to tip in Princeton’s favor. While the Quakers attempted to come back, they found themselves staring down an eight point deficit, and only 90 seconds left on the clock. With star junior guard Stina Almqvist just fouling out, the Quakers needed a parade of miracles to close out the game. 

Throughout the season, playing in other arenas, Penn has faced the same problem: a need for everything to go right. In those moments, the team has had mixed results, but never stopped learning. Now, they knew exactly what they needed to do. 

Quakers acquired possession, and there was only one woman for the job: senior forward Jordan Obi. An all-time great for the Penn program, she acted as a steady hand throughout a tumultuous final season. Captaining the team, Obi has proven time and time again that the ball belongs in her hands when the game comes down to the wire. 

Obi proved her mettle, lacing a jumper from just inside the paint near the baseline. On the next possession, she connected on a triple on a crucial three off of a laser pass from star freshman guard Mataya Gayle. An impact player since day one, Gayle led the team in scoring on the day, but this stellar pass served as her biggest play of the game.

After an excellent defensive play from sophomore guard Simone Sawyer — her seventh steal of the game — momentum was building for the Quakers, who turned to Obi once again with the game on the lines.

A player who has yet to beat Princeton in her career. A player who has worn the Red and Blue with more pride than anyone. With all the pressure of the world on her shoulders, Obi once again found the ball and drove to the paint. The game was on the line; she would drive and score. The crowd erupted — the boulder reached the top of the hill, and everyone could see the horizon for a fleeting second. 

But a whistle turned the cheers into boos as an official ripped the hearts out of every Quaker fan in the stadium: An offensive foul had been called on Obi. Soon after, the game would get away from Penn. A slew of mistakes pushed the match — and the season — out of reach, knocking the boulder back down the hill.

Postgame, coach Mike McLaughlin said that he believed it was a missed call, and that the result should’ve been a thunderous and-one that would have given Penn the chance to tie the game.

When it all mattered most, Penn did everything right. Not just in the match, but throughout the season. They took each game as a chance to learn, maximized their talents on both sides of the ball, and improved to the point where, in their most dire moments, they were playing to their full potential. 

Which brings me back to the start of this column: Sometimes you just can’t win. A referee will make the wrong call, the ball will bounce the wrong way, and all Penn can do is watch it all roll away. 

Accepting this fact allows you to see one major truth: This was an amazing season to witness. Success is not always defined by a title run or a major upset. 

The team ushered in an amazing pair of backcourt rookies with Gayle and freshman guard Ese Ogbevire, a pairing that racked up over nine Rookie of the Week awards in the Ivy League. Almqvist blossomed into an All-Ivy player, and proved that the program will be entering good hands next season. Finally, seniors like Obi and forward Floor Toonders gained the chance to end their Red and Blue careers with a fighting effort, something many players aren't lucky enough to get.

All in all, this season didn’t end how anyone wanted, but it showed that Penn has a program that puts itself in a chance to win every day. Sisyphus may never reach the top, but he gets stronger every time he tries, a lesson Penn women’s basketball has taken to heart. 

Despite the end result, the team gets back up every time and one day the ball will roll their way 

And when it does, we will all be there to celebrate.

SEAN MCKEOWN is a sophomore and current deputy sports editor studying communications from Philadelphia. All comments should be directed to