PHILADELPHIA - There was an extra member of the team at the University of Pennsylvania women's basketball's annual end-of-year banquet on Friday night. The Ivy League championship trophy joined the Quakers in a celebration of the 2013-14 title season at the Sheraton in University City. The Quakers and the coaching staff were joined by a large group of family, friends and alumni.
Penn clinched its first Ivy League title and NCAA Tournament berth since 2003-04 on with an 80-64 win at Princeton on the final day of the regular season. The Quakers (22-6, 12-2 Ivy) tied a school record for wins in a season and earned the outright championship with the second-best league mark in program history. The Quakers earned their first win over an ACC opponent, tied a school record with two Big 5 wins, matched the best two-year stretch in school history with 40 wins (1999-01) and earned back-to-back postseason appearances for the first time. The Red and Blue led fifth-seeded Texas in the first round of the NCAA Tournament by as many as 15 and by seven at the half before falling 79-61.
Senior captain Meghan McCullough earned a pair of awards. She earned the annual Team Leader award and the prestigious Epton-Tarr Award for her efforts as the consummate team player throughout the 2013-14 campaign. McCullough started every game as Penn's point guard and led the Ivy League in assists (103), assist-to-turnover ratio (+1.9) and minutes played (1,019).
Senior captain Courtney Wilson was honored with the prestigious Harshberger-Johnson-Brendel (HJB) Prize for Sportsmanship, Loyalty and Leadership. The HJB, created by Penn alumna and former player Cynthia Warner Johnson Crowley CW’52, honors the strong tradition of more than 80 years of women’s varsity basketball at Penn. Wilson capped a stellar season and career with her best game in the biggest moment - a season-high 10 points and a team-best six rebounds and three blocks in the NCAA Tournament game against Texas.
Ivy League and Big 5 Player of the Year, senior captain Alyssa Baron, was named the team's Impact Player of the Year. Baron, who also excelled in the classroom and was named Academic All-Ivy and Philadelphia Inquirer Academic All-Area Performer of the Year, finished her final collegiate season among the top 10 in the Ivy League in scoring, rebounding, assists, steals and free throw percentage.
Senior captain Kristen Kody was named Penn's Unsung Hero. She won the award after assuming a new role during her final year in the Red and Blue. In the final preseason scrimmage of the year, Kody tore her ACL and missed the entire 2013-14 campaign, but proved to be instrumental in the locker room and on the sidelines throughout the championship season.
Penn's Defensive Player of the Year award went to freshman Sydney Stipanovich, who became the first Ivy Leaguer to win two Player of the Year honors in the same season. She was named the Ivy League Rookie of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year. She was also selected as the Big 5 Player of the Year after she obliterated the school record for blocks in a season. Her 99 rejections stand as second-most in Ivy League history and her 3.41 blocks per game ranked eighth in the nation.
The team's Most Improved award went to freshman Sade Gibbons, while the Most Intangible award went to Kara Bonenberger. Gibbons played in 11 games during her rookie season and Bonenberger, who earned All-Ivy and All-Big 5 accolades is known for her strong off-the-court prescence in workouts and the weight room.
The four seniors each gave a speech to conclude the banquet. They also each wrote a senior tribute that was featured in the banquet program and is shown below:
#1 Alyssa Baron
It’s been a pleasure to attend and play basketball at Penn where I’ve grown as a person both on and off the court over the last four years. I’ve matured thanks to many people and have been blessed with great people around me. All of the ladies I have played with have made this experience for me. You’re not only my friends but my sisters. I am truly lucky to have crossed paths with all of you. I want to thank my biggest supporters and fans, my family. Thank you mom and dad for helping me build the bridges to my dreams. I wouldn’t be where I am without you. My sister and brother, Jessica and Matthew, thank you for leading the way and forging a path for me to follow. I might not say it, but I look up to both of you as role models. Coaches, thank you for your hard work and dedication to this team and program. You always thank the four seniors for trusting you and believing in you to turn this program around but it’s our turn to thank you. Your trust and belief in us has led to all of the success we have achieved and to Ivy League Champs! Meg, Kris, and Court. There’s no one else I would have rather taken this journey with. Thanks for putting up with me for four years and being the best friends I could ask for. I didn’t realize the grip that Penn Basketball had on me until it was over. And wherever I end up in the future, it will always be a part of me.
#21 Kristen Kody
Marathon; a long distant contest requiring exceptional endurance. My experience as a Penn Women’s Basketball Player has been comparable to running a marathon. The hours of preparation starting as a young athlete and the mental edge I mastered as a college player has allowed me to accomplish the feat of playing Division I College Basketball. Sure, there were days I did not think I could do it, but with the love and support of my family, teammates, and coaches, I was able to push through. To my parents; your unconditional love and encouragement has given me the strength to persevere even when I thought I could not. To my teammates; you guys have impacted my experience here in more ways than you could ever know. I am so proud of you all and can’t wait to see you guys continue to kick butt in the future. To my fellow seniors; you guys have become the sisters I never had and I couldn’t have asked for a better group to spend the last four years with. Last but definitely not least, to my coaches; I thank you for being the exceptional role models and leaders that you are. You have guided and helped me grow into the player and person I am today. The past four years have brought incredible highs and lows, but I would not trade it for anything. Although this particular marathon has come to an end, it is an experience I will keep with me for the rest of my life and has brought the most rewarding sense of accomplishment that any athlete could ever ask for.
After such an incredible senior season to top off these amazing four years it’s hard to capture all the emotions that we have been experiencing. These four years wearing the RED and BLUE have surpassed all expectations of playing college basketball. I have learned so much from this sport and the camaraderie, love, and passion in this program has made me who I am today. I am so thankful for this opportunity and for all the people that have helped me along the way. First and foremost, thank you to my parents for your endless support. I am so happy to have been able to celebrate all of this with you. Thank you to my brothers who have been my biggest fans and have taught me so much. A huge thank you to our dedicated coaches. You were the ones that believed in us from day one and trusted us to turn this program around. Thank you for not only making us better players, but for making us better people, teammates, and friends. Thank you to my teammates for the endless laughs and continued dedication allowing us to have this experience. You are all amazing. Lastly, thank you to my fellow seniors and best friends for all the memories and for always providing the best support. Every part of the Penn Athletics community has truly made these four years so special. I will miss everything about this school and team, but will forever be a member of the RED and BLUE. Penn Basketball will always hold a special place in my heart and I will continue as a proud alumni.
#50 Courtney Wilson
Over and over again the thought that runs through my mind is that I can’t believe that it is all over. This season meant the world for me not just because of our on the court accomplishments, but also because of the bonds that we created as a team. Basketball has given me so much over the years: it taught me hard work, risk and reward, honesty, and integrity, but the thing that it gave me that I value the most is great teammates. Over 4 years, I made lasting relationships with incredible people. Basketball is one of the toughest sports to play for many reasons, and we all know this, but by sticking with it and persevering, we are rewarded. There are so many people that have supported me over the years and that I need to thank. My parents have given me so much of themselves and pushed me every day to do and be better. I would not be the woman that I am today without them. Thank you so much for sticking through the highs and lows with me. I chose Penn because of the people there. Thank you to the coaches for making this program what it is today. We had faith in you and in this program and look at where we are now. Thank you for making me a better player and person. You showed us all that the most important thing about this sport is not wins and losses but how you act and stay true to who you are. To my teammates, both past and present, thank you. This team is about so much more than basketball and you all have made my experiences at Penn irreplaceable.
A complete list of the 2013-14 team awards:
Harshberger-Johnson-Brendel Prize for Sportsmanship, Loyalty and Leadership in Basketball - Courtney Wilson
Epton-Tarr Award - Meghan McCullough
Impact Player of the Year - Alyssa Baron
Defensive Player of the Year - Sydney Stipanovich
Team Leader - Meghan McCullough
Unsung Hero - Kristen Kody
Most Improved Player of the Year - Sade Gibbons
Miss Intangible - Kara Bonenberger