A Season to Believe In

2003-04 Penn women's basketball season review

March 29, 2004

PHILADELPHIA -- The University of Pennsylvania women's basketball team had a credo it followed through to the final horn of the regular season and into the the NCAA Women's Championship-"Yes, I Believe." The Quakers' second Ivy League title in four years made true believers out of everyone as Penn captured the crown in the second-to-last game of the season, a 78-61 victory over Dartmouth. The Ancient Eight title was the second in program history and second under Head Coach Kelly Greenberg.

The Red and Blue began with a very competitive non-conference schedule, playing four entrants into this year's NCAA Tournament, including Marist, Villanova, Temple and Ohio State. Penn defeated Marist, 86-78, in the first game at The Palestra and then recorded its first victory at Atlantic 10 Champion Temple, 70-64, in a decade. This season's 17 wins were the third most in program history and the most since Penn went 22-6 in 2000-01, the last season the Farhquar-Baker Ivy League Championship trophy made its way to Philadelphia.

The Quakers made their way through to the 2003-04 Ivy title led by a starting five that was comprised of a pair of seniors that undoubtedly have left their mark on Penn fans, a sophomore center that made her presence known this season and three junior guards, two of which had a shooter's touch desirable by most anyone. Seniors Jewel Clark, Ivy League Player of the Year and unanimous first-team All-Ivy selection, and Mikaelyn Austin paced Penn out of the gate while sophomore center Jennifer Fleischer, a second-team All-Ivy selection, patrolled the paint. Juniors Karen Habrukowich and Cat Makarewich shared starting duties and proved to be deadly marksmen from the outside and Amanda Kammes ran the offense like a finely-oiled mechanism.

Penn was able to find success in pulling out close wins and closing out opponents when the opportunities presented themselves. The Quakers won three games decided by three points or less, including a 59-57 win over Yale at The Palestra, a 69-66 victory over Cornell and an emotional, 73-72, win at Harvard on a made free throw in the final six seconds. It was part of an all-important weekend sweep of the Crimson and Dartmouth, which put the Red and Blue ahead to stay in the Ivy standings. The Quakers had their largest margin of victory in a 73-43 win over Lafayette on Jan. 20 and averaged a 12.5-point margin of victory throughout the season.

Another reason the Quakers are dancing in March and Greenberg is now the winningest Penn coach in Ivy contests (51) is a core of bench players that may be the most proficient second five in the Ivy League this season. Freshman Joey Rhoads, a unanimous Ivy League All-Rookie Team selection, and Monica Naltner were among team leaders in several categories while junior tri-captain Maria DiDonato proved to be an assassin from the outside when called upon. When Makarewich was not in the starting line up, she was the first off the bench and an immediate catalyst for the offense. Katie Kilker provided key support for Penn's interior defense and offense.

For the third straight season Jewel Clark set the bar for the Quakers team and leaves Penn as the second-highest scorer in program history, with 1,743 points. Clark did not take long to get into mid-season form, collecting her first of 12 double-doubles with 26 points and 12 boards in a 74-68 loss to Delaware State in the title game of the UMBC Retriever Classic (Nov. 22-23). Clark had three-straight double-doubles in the middle of the season, averaging 20.6 points and 13.0 rebounds over the three-game span. She has recorded 29 double-doubles in her career, including a 23-point, 14-rebound effort in the Ivy clinching win over Dartmouth.

Clark proved to be very resilient as a scorer, averaging 26.0 points in games after she had been held under 10 in the scoring column during the previous contest. She was held to nine points against Villanova on Dec. 4 and came back with 30 at Temple on Dec. 9. Yale held the Waldorf, Md. native to a season-low six points and Brown felt the effects as Clark dropped 25 on Brown, hitting 8-of-15 shots against the Bears. Harvard held Clark to nine points in 19 minutes of play and, unfortunately for Dartmouth, scored 23 on the Big Green to go along with 13 boards for her seventh double-double of the season.

The remaining four starters were anything but simply a supporting cast for Clark. Fellow senior Mikaelyn Austin finished the season with 126 threes, fourth on Penn's all-time list despite season-long injuries. Sophomore Jennifer Fleischer came into her own as the Quakers' center. Fleischer had a career-high 11 double-doubles with her first coming against La Salle (Nov. 25) where she scored 11 points and grabbed 10 boards. She showed how dominating she can be with a career-high 19 points and 18 rebounds against Columbia (Feb. 13), the most caroms collected by a Quaker this season. Fleischer put her name in the record books with seven blocks against Lafayette (Jan. 20), a 30-point win for Penn.

Karen Habrukowich and Makarewich earned their stripes from the outside as both ranked in the top five in the Ivy League in three-point accuracy with Habrukowich fourth (.432) and Makarewich (.429) fifth. Both have difficult names to pronounce and even more difficult shots to defend. Each had games with four made three-point field goals this season as Makarewich hit 4-of-6 for 12 points against Dayton (Dec. 20) and Habrukowich dropped 12 points on Princeton (Jan. 9) on 4-of-6 shooting. She also went 4-for-8 against Brown (Feb. 20), scoring 18 points. The Newtown, Pa. native scored a season-high 23 points to lead Penn over Columbia (Feb. 13), 81-70.

Of course getting these shooters the ball is as important as the shot itself. Junior starting point guard Amanda Kammes is a battle-tested floor general after leading her Quakers to the 2003-04 Ivy title. Kammes dished double-digit assists twice this season with 10 against Drexel (Jan. 13) and Dartmouth (Feb. 7).

The Red and Blue made it through the first half of the Ivy season unscathed with a 7-0 record. The sweep of Harvard and Dartmouth at Levietes Gym and Leede Arena, respectively, turned the tide of the Ancient Eight season in the Quakers' favor. And as that trip was a key to the season's success, the bench was the key to that trip's success. Penn's bench outscored Harvard's, 41-4, in the 73-72 victory over the Crimson. Despite the domination of the second five, Penn needed a free throw from Kilker with :05.8 remaining on the clock to secure the victory. Makarewich led the way with 13 points (4-for-7), Rhoads (3-for-7) and Naltner (4-for-7) added eight, Maria DiDonato hit a key three (1-for-3) and Kilker added nine (4-for-4). Naltner hit a foul-line jumper at the 1:08 mark to knot the score at 72.

Penn followed the emotional win with a 13-point, 71-58, victory over Dartmouth the following night to take sole possession of the first place in the Ivy League standings, a position it would not relinquish, or share, the remainder of the season. A true testament to the importance of the Penn bench is the appearance of reserves at or near the top of team statistical categories. Rhoads finished the season fifth on the team in scoring (7.0 ppg) and second in free-throw percentage (.808). Naltner finished the regular season fourth in blocks with 10.

The bench bunch came up huge again on the road, outscoring Cornell's reserves, 28-1, in a 69-66 win at Newman Arena (Feb. 27). Makarewich and Kilker each finished with eight points and Rhoads and Naltner contributed six apiece. The Red and Blue allowed a 68-59 lead with 1:51 remaining to dwindle to two, 68-66, before a Clark foul shot and a missed trey by Cornell's Karen Force secured the Quakers win.

The second half of the season brought out the true dedication of this team. Both Clark and Austin felt the joy of an Ivy title as freshmen. They wanted that feeling for their teammates and again for themselves. The road ahead was bumpy as five of the Quakers' final seven Ivy games would be contested away from The Palestra. Penn earned splits on two consecutive weeks, picking up wins over Yale and Cornell and dropping decisions to Brown and Columbia. The Red and Blue closed out the road trip with a 73-62 win at Princeton and despite the two missteps, Penn had the opportunity to do what every team works all season for, clinch a conference title on their home court.

Penn would not be denied. The seniors combined for 38 points and 21 rebounds in the 78-61 route of the Big Green (Mar. 5), sending the Quakers to the East region in Bridgeport, Conn., as a No. 15 seed, for a first round battle against the two-time defending national champion No. 2 seed University of Connecticut Huskies.

The Red and Blue will look toward the 2004-05 season with excitement and fervor. Yes, it is true Penn is losing the second-most prolific scorer and fourth-highest three-point shooter in program history but the arsenal is still loaded with young guns and sharp shooters. This season's freshmen, Rhoads, Naltner, Ashley Gray, Lauren Pears and Jessica Hosenbold will complement returning starters Kammes, Fleischer, Habrukowich and Makarewich. DiDonato will continue to light the scoreboard from the outside and Henley Hansen, Jenna Markoff, Rachel Wilson and Teresa Fallon will add contributions in key areas. The opportunity to repeat is within the Quakers' grasp. In order to attain one's goal, all one has to do is Believe. That has never been a problem for the Penn women's basketball team.

Written by Mat Kanan, associate director of athletic communications