By Matt Leon
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – The Penn women’s basketball team will play a huge game on Friday, visiting Harvard in Ivy League action.
Penn is 16-5 this season and 6-1 in the Ancient 8. That league mark has them tied with Princeton for second place, a half a game behind the Harvard team they are preparing for. So needless to say, Friday’s game will have a lot to do with how the Ivy race shapes up down the stretch.
There are a lot of reasons why the Quakers are where they are, but two of the biggest are senior guard Alyssa Baron and freshman center Sydney Stipanovich.
While Stipanovich is just getting started with what looks like it will be a very special career, Baron is coming down the stretch of what has already proven to be an incredible journey at Penn. The Miami, Florida, native is truly enjoying this final season.
“So much fun,” Baron tells KYW Newsradio. “It’s just a testament to our hard work. Especially the seniors now over the four years. We’ve added to our wins each year and then this year is just our year to do it all to win an Ivy League championship.”
Baron is a two-time Ivy League scoring champion who is averaging 15 points a game this season. Her 1,689 career points is the third highest total in program history, and she is fourth in career assists with 320.
“I think it’s fitting for all the work she’s put in, all the sacrifices,” Penn head coach Mike McLaughlin tells KYW Newsradio. “Even in the recruiting process, coming to a team that won two games the year before and her embracing the challenge that we put out in front of her. I think it’s a great credit, she’s had a tremendous freshman year, sophomore, junior year and right now she’s having a great senior year. She’s on path to do some really special things at the end, and I’m really proud of her.”
But Baron isn’t focusing on her legacy just yet.
“I think once it’s all over then I’ll be able to reflect on what I’ve done and accomplished,” Baron says. “But right now it’s definitely just focusing on the team, and us getting better as a team and the overall team wins.”
Stipanovich has had an incredible impact on the Quakers in her first season on campus. The niece of former Indiana Pacers big man Steve Stipanovich, Sydney has been named the Ivy League Player of the Week three times and the Rookie of the Week six times. She is averaging 11.4 points and 8 rebounds a game, but it’s another stat that really turns your head. In 21 games, Stipanovich has blocked 82 shots. That’s more than every other Ivy League TEAM except Princeton and it is already the Penn single-season record. She’s actually already tied for fifth on Penn’s all-time list for rejections and needs 20 more blocks to set the Ivy League single-season record. As a freshman.
“Coach always said from the start he thought I could really make an impact if I just worked at it every day at practice, on and off the court,” Stipanovich tells KYW Newsradio. “I really didn’t know what to expect honestly, but I think the coaches have been really patient with me and just worked with me everyday.”
McLaughlin says Stipanovich has been a perfect fit for his team.
“She’s an anchor in the middle,” McLaughlin says. “Not only is Sydney a good player, but she works really hard, she wants to be good, she’s competitive. She challenges herself on a daily basis and she’s really impacted us at a high level this year. We run a lot of offense through her, our defense is centered around her. Great teammate. She’s just got all the qualities to have a tremendous career here at Penn.”
As good as Stipanovich has been, she says she can get even better.
“Definitely offensively and defensively,” Stipanovich says. “Shooting and posting up and just getting stronger. That’s probably the key, getting stronger.”
Baron, Stipanovich and the rest of the Quakers tip-off with Harvard at 7:00pm on Friday night in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
You can follow Matt on Twitter @mattleonkyw.