By Matt Leon
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – In Mike McLaughlin’s first year as the head coach of the Penn women’s basketball team back in 2009-2010, the Quakers won just two games. Since then, however, Penn has made steady improvement and now the Quakers are enjoying one of their best seasons in years. They sit at 14-9 on the season, they are 7-2 in the Ivy League and they have won five straight games heading into Friday night’s visit to Dartmouth.
One of the big reasons for the constant improvement for the program, and the success this season, is junior Alyssa Baron.
A 5’10” guard who played her high school ball in Florida, Baron is enjoying the ride as the Quakers establish themself as a contender in the Ivy League.
“It’s a blast to be honest,” Baron tells KYW Newsradio. “It’s a lot of fun winning games, showing that our hard work is paying off. All our practices are going into these games and we’re showing that we’re able to win and showing we’re in the top tier of the Ivy League right now and we’re definitely a team to be reckoned with.”
Baron already has a pair of Ivy League scoring titles under her belt (16.6 points/game as a freshman, 16.9 points/game as a sophomore) and she is already sixth in program history with more than 1,200 points. This year she is pouring in 14 points a game, which is good for fourth in the Ivy League, and the lower scoring average is actually a sign of how well things are going for the Quakers.
“The first two years we needed her to score every opportunity she had the ball,” McLaughlin tells KYW Newsradio. “That’s not the case this year. She does have a little bit more help around her that can score the ball. And she’s developed into the player that you would hope. She’s very selfless, she passes the ball really well, she looks for her open teammates. Defensively, she’s a complete player now, she’s rebounding the ball at a high level. Trying to score as much as she had to (in the past), to give ourselves a chance, took a lot out of her. Now I can see she’s becoming a complete player.”
Baron agrees with McLaughlin’s assessment.
“I think I’m more of a complete player now,” Baron says. “I think my freshman year when I came, my focus was mainly on offense and I think now the defensive side is much more important for me, and rebounding, and passing, getting my teammates involved. It’s really a big thing for me.”
And Baron is doing an outstanding job at getting her teammates involved. In fact, she leads the Ivy League in assists at 4.1 points a game and she is now fifth in the Ancient 8 in rebounding (6.2 a game). Throw in two steals a game, which is tied for second in the league, and you have a true all-around threat. But Baron says all the statistics don’t mean as much as the wins do.
“The main goal is an Ivy championship and I know all the individual success is great, but overall it’s a team sport,” Baron says. “Just contributing to the team as a whole is what it is all about.”
The best news for McLaughlin is the fact that Baron is only a junior, which means he still has another whole season to take advantage of her special talent.
“I think it’s great because I’ve seen her from day one to now, and I still think her better basketball is still ahead of her,” McLaughlin says. “I do think she’s improving, she’s getting better, she’s determined to be the best. Ultimately, when it’s all said and done, she’s going to be one of the most complete players ever to play here.”
You can follow Matt on Twitter @mattleonkyw.