PHILADELPHIA There are most certainly very few teams in the nation that had a better turnaround in the second half of the season than the University of Pennsylvania women’s basketball team. The Quakers rallied from a 3-15 start overall and a 0-4 start to the Ivy schedule to finish in the top half of the Ivy League.
Though the Quakers finished 9-19 overall, just three teams separated the Red and Blue from the NCAA Tournament as they finished fourth in the Ivy League.
Undoubtedly, the Quakers were the most improved team in the Ancient Eight and, arguably, the nation during the second half of the year. The Quakers’ three wins in their first 18 games amounted to a winning percentage of .167. However, the Red and Blue rallied to a 6-4 finish. Most telling was the team’s second matchup with Columbiaafter dropping the first meeting by 20 and trailing from start to finish, the Quakers defeated the Lions handily four weeks later, leading by as many as 20 in the 72-64 rematch win.
Even the early season record can be a bit misleading. The Quakers led late in all four Big 5 games and dropped four games inside the final minute. Lacking a bit of good fortune, the Red and Blue fell to Villanova (two points) and Saint Joseph’s (six points) in the final moments, dropped a three-point game to La Salle at the buzzer, and lost at Lafayette by four points in overtime.
Furthermore, eight of Penn’s losses came to teams that qualified for the postseason in 2008-09, six of which came to teams that reached the NCAA Tournament.
Though the real turnaround came in the last half of the year, things had actually begun to turn much earlier in the season as Penn went 3-1 to finish the month of December.
However, an injury to junior point guard Sarah Bucarwho had started every game to that pointpartly derailed the team. Bucar missed the entire month of January and the Quakers lost all seven games in that time.
In addition, two of the team’s standout freshmenJess Knapp and Jordan Bankswere forced to miss the entire season due to injury.
Barring the 0-5 start in November, and the 0-7 record without Bucar in January, the Quakers were 9-7 in the other three months of the season.
The pulse of the Quakers program in 2008-09 changed between halves at Cornell on Feb. 7. Trailing by 11 at intermission, the squad was 20 minutes away from dropping its ninth straight game and its fifth straight to open Ancient Eight play. However, a torrid second half sparked a season-changing run to end the year.
Penn scored a season-high 55 points, shooting over 70 percent from the floor to rally for a 79-70 victory on the home floor of the defending Ivy League champions.
The momentum carried into the next weekend, as Penn handily defeated both Brown and Yale at The Palestra, completing the team’s first Ivy sweep in nearly two years. The feat was duplicated three weeks later on the team’s next homestand with yet another win over defending champion Cornell and the tell-tale rematch victory over Columbia.
In between the home weekend sweeps, the Quakers lost their three-game winning streak in Hanover, N.H., against eventual Ivy champion Dartmouth, but rebounded to split a weekend trip at Yale and Brown. The Red and Blue completed a season sweep of the Bears with the road overtime win which led into the second half of the team’s four-game home winning streak.
Though the team was unable to snatch a win from the top-three teams in the League when they fell to third-place Princeton in the season finale, Penn finished the year with a 6-2 mark against the rest of the Ancient Eight.
Much of the Quakers’ success throughout the season was in conjunction with the outstanding play of senior Carrie Biemer. The Haddonfield High School product had one of the most productive offensive seasons in Penn history. In becoming just the fifth player in program history to surpass 500 points in a season, Biemer finished her career with 1,124 points, placing ninth on Penn’s all-time scoring list. A 2009 first team All-Ivy honoree, she ranked in the Top 10 in the Ivy League in most offensive categories and was the first Quaker since Diana Caramanico in 2000-01 to win the Ancient Eight scoring title.
The rest of the Quakers did their part, as well. Six of the 12 active players captured the weekly Ivy League honor roll distinction on at least one occasion, and four different players earned weekly Big 5 honor roll status. Biemer was a winner of the Ivy League Player of the Week (Dec. 8) and a two-time honoree as Big 5 Player of the Week (Jan. 12 and Feb. 16).
Off the court, the 2008-09 team represented the University well. The Quakers welcomed in more than 60 local grade school kidsa record amountto the team’s third annual Penn Pals Basketball Clinic. Penn also raised more than $8,000 in the “Pink Zone” campaign toward the fight against breast cancer.
In a season in which the Quakers were forced to deal with their share of adversity, the 2008-09 squad certainly got the Penn program heading back in the right direction, literally putting the Red and Blue among the top teams in the Ivy League once again.