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Sophomore guard Simone Sawyer looks to pass in a game against Princeton on Feb. 10.

Credit: Caleb Crain

Penn women's basketball's sophomore guard Simone Sawyer is making waves both on and off the court. With Sawyer being a key player for the women's basketball team, her talent and tenacity have earned her plenty of recognition. In her freshman campaign, she received Ivy League Rookie of the Week honors twice. 

“Being in this program, everyone is super positive, and it’s really like a family," Sawyer said. "It’s easy to play for [Penn], and it’s easy to love it here."

The love she has for her teammates, fans, and coaches is certainly reciprocated. 

“She’s always on," coach Mike McLaughlin said. "You know what you’re getting out of her every day. You can challenge her approach, and she responds."

On the hardwood, Sawyer's prowess is undeniable, and McLaughlin spoke highly of her speed and athleticism. “As an athlete, she’s quick, straight-line fast. When she’s active, she’s at her best. And when she gets out and runs lanes for transition, she’s at her offensive best.” 

With lightning speed and a sharp eye for the game, she's become a formidable force for the Quakers, having started 13 of 23 games so far in the 2023–24 season. Yet, it's her commitment to mental health advocacy that paints a fuller picture of who she is.

Mo Minds Matter, Sawyer's brainchild, was founded to destigmatize mental health issues and promote an open dialogue about struggles with mental health. Through her private clothing company, Sawyer designs and sells apparel containing empowering messages to help spread mental health awareness. Mo Minds Matter has also become a platform for other individuals — often athletes — to share their own experiences with mental health struggles and to promote mental well-being. 

Sawyer’s current project with Mo Minds Matter is “The Keys to Mo Happiness,” where she has other athletes share their keys to happiness through a handful of quotes. Having struggled with mental health in her own life, Sawyer saw a chance to create something that could not only help herself, but also help others away from the sport of basketball, as much as she enjoys it. 

“I wanted to create something where I can just be Simone Sawyer, and not like ‘basketball Simone’ or ‘academic Simone,’” she explains. 

For Sawyer, the journey hasn't come without its challenges. Balancing the demands of Division I athletics with the responsibilities of running a company has required grit, determination, and, of course, a lot of organization. 

“This is going to sound crazy, but I just use Google Calendar,” she said, laughing a little. Sawyer also knows the importance of personal time. “I make sure I set aside at least two hours a day for myself. I think that’s important, and I get to choose what I do with that time.” 

Sawyer's maturity and unwavering commitment to her cause fuel her drive to succeed in all aspects of her life. “As a person, she’s mature and growing right in front of us; she really is,” McLaughlin said. “I think it’s really important, the work that she is doing, bringing recognition to mental health. And more importantly, it’s really important to her.” 

As Sawyer continues to excel in her sophomore season, the women’s basketball team faces a battle for the Ivy Madness title this weekend. As the number four seed, Penn takes on Princeton on Friday, March 15 at 4:30 p.m. for a spot in the tournament final. Sawyer is excited to bring the energy for the Quakers this weekend and hopefully extend their season a little longer.

But ultimately, as Sawyer's journey unfolds, it's clear that her influence extends far beyond the hardwood. With each game she plays and each message she shares, Sawyer proves that athletes have the power to effect change and leave things better than they found them. Whether it be sinking three-pointers or spreading awareness about mental health, Sawyer is certainly determined to leave a lasting impact on the Penn community and beyond.

“You’re not going to play basketball forever, and so I think that’s super important: to leave impacts,” she said. 

Regardless of the results from this weekend’s Ivy Madness tournament, Sawyer can feel confident that she’s leaving her mark on this program, both on and off the court.