Women's Basketball Celebrates Big 5 Title, Seniors

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PHILADELPHIA - There was a lot to celebrate at the University of Pennsylvania women's basketball team's annual banquet on Wednesday night. The Quakers were joined by the Big 5 championship trophy, handed out the team awards and recognized the winningest senior class in school history.

Penn won its first-ever Big 5 title this season and capped its 2014-15 campaign in the second round of the WNIT. The Quakers finished 21-9 overall and 11-3 in Ivy League play. Penn's four senior captains --Katy Allen,Kara Bonenberger,Kathleen RocheandRenee Busch-- will graduate as the all-time winningest class in school history. They won 74 games, which included the Big 5 title, an Ivy League championship and NCAA appearance in 2013-14, and the first three postseason wins in school history.In all, Penn matched a school record with 10 non-conference wins in 2014-15 and won 20 games for just the third time in school history (second straight season).

Senior captain Katy Allenwas honoredwith the coveted 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. Allen played through injury all season, but did not miss a game. She was tops off the bench with 18.2 minutes per game and finished with an average of 4.0 points and 3.1 rebounds this season.

Fellow senior captain Renee Busch earned the prestigiousEpton-Tarr Award for her efforts as the consummate team player. Busch also played in all 30 games and finished second on the team in three-point percentage. She may have had the highlight of the season with the game-winning three-pointer to beat Temple and clinch the program's first-ever Big 5 title on Jan. 5.

Among the awards voted on by the players, senior Kathleen Roche won the Team Leader award and senior Kara Bonenberger won Miss Intangible. Roche was second on the team in scoring and ranked among the top 10 in the Ivy League in made threes and three-point percentage. Bonenberger finished as the only player in program history to win a Big 5 title, an Ivy League title and score 1,000 career points.

Freshman Michelle Nwokedi earned the Impact Player of the Year award. The Ivy League Rookie of the Year led Penn in rebounding (7.4/game), and was third in scoring (9.3/gm). She was also second on the team and in the Ivy League with 67 blocks -- the fourth-most in a season in program history.

Sophomore Sade Gibbons was selected as the team's Most Improved Player. Gibbons played in 22 games -- twice as many as her freshman season -- and finished with a career-high 38 rebounds and 10 blocks, while shooting a team-best 10-for-18 (.556) from the field.

Predictably, sophomore Sydney Stipanovich won the team's Defensive Player of the Year award. Stipanovich was named the Ivy League Defensive Player of the Year and finished with the second-most blocks in a season in school history -- only behind her own program record set as a freshman. She was also named first-team All-Ivy and first-team All-Big 5 this season.

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:

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#23 Katy Allen

These last four years at Penn have been some of the best in my life and much of that is attributed to basketball. I feel so lucky to have been able to be a part of this program and its success over the years. Basketball has helped me to grow as a person and has taught me so many lessons that I will be able to carry with me as I move on to the next part of my life. My time here at Penn would not have been so special without all of the people who have supported me along the way. Thank you to my parents for all of your love and always being there for me. Your support has given me the strength to push through the tough times and always give my best. To my sister, Jenny, thank you for being such a great role model. Your hard work and dedication over the years has inspired me to give it my all every time I step on the court. Thank you to the coaches for your dedication to this program and for believing in us day in and day out. Also, thank you for caring about us so much off the court; I believe it is why our team has so much success. To my teammates past and present, thank you for being my second family. You all are my best friends and I could not imagine my experience at Penn without you. Finally to my fellow seniors, I could not have asked for a better group to spend the last four years with. You are all like my sisters and I cannot wait to see what the future holds for us. I am going to miss Penn so much, but am so thankful to have had this amazing opportunity and cannot wait to cheer on the team in the coming years.

#22 Kara Bonenberger

From playing my first game in the Palestra, to taking off my jersey for the last time, these past four years have been amazing. Being a part of the Penn family has allowed me to grow as a person and create memories that I will cherish for a lifetime. Yet, these memories would not be special without the people I experienced them with. To my parents, thank you for coming to all of my games and supporting me through both the good and the bad. To my sister, Alyssa, thank you for making me a better basketball player and for being there whenever I needed someone to talk to. I would also like to thank the staff of Penn Athletics, the fans, and especially the Penn Band. Thank you for all the support throughout the years and for filling in those empty seats at the Palestra. To my coaches, thank you for believing in me from day one. Thank you for allowing me to be a part of such a special program; you are all truly amazing people. I would like to thank my teammates throughout my years at Penn. I will cherish the moments we have had together, both on and off the court. Lastly, I would like to thank my fellow seniors and best friends. I could not have asked for a better group of girls to spend my four years of college with and will miss you greatly. I love you all so much and will miss spending everyday with you. Forever and always we will be TOGETHER.

#24 Renee Busch

I have always loved playing basketball and being a part of a team. But it was not until I came to Penn that I understood the depth of the concept of team and what it truly is to be together. TOGETHER: we said it every day all season and I believe that we meant it every time. So firstly, thank you to my teammates for embracing me into the PWBB family. You remind me why I love being a part of this team every day. Each one of you has made an impact on me. Thank you to the coaches. You brought us all together and helped us to succeed not just in terms of wins and losses, but by doing things the right way and always looking out for us as people and not only as players. Thank you to my senior class Kathleen, Katy and Kara for your relentless passion, commitment, and friendship over the past four years. After all we’ve been through, know that wherever we end up we are always family. Finally, thank you to my parents. Thank you Mom and Dad for giving me the opportunities to pursue my goals. Thank you for always being there to listen to me no matter what, for pushing me when I needed it and knowing when to let me figure things out for myself. I am proud as I look back on my four years at Penn.

#5 Kathleen Roche

It is difficult to capture in words what these past years with Penn Basketball has meant to me. I have been able to learn and experience so much more than I expected when I came in a short four years ago. I have so many people to thank for this unforgettable experience. First off, thank you to my biggest fans, my parents. I can’t imagine my career without you as my backbone. Thank you Coach McLaughlin, Coach Laukaitis, Coach Day, Coach Kate, and all of the past coaching staff for dedicating all you have to our program, and to us. You have helped us to grow not only as players, but as people off the court. Of course, thank you to my lovely, crazy, and talented teammates. My experience would be nothing without your constant support and friendship on and off the court. And to my fellow Seniors; thank you for making me enjoy every single day we spent together. It’s been a truly amazing ride thanks to you special people, but also thanks to everyone of the greater Penn Basketball community. I never realized how much of my heart Penn basketball had until it all ended. It has, and will continue to be, a hard goodbye to the people and the program that have grown to feel so much like my home. I know going forward Penn Basketball, and everyone associated with it, will hold a large piece of my heart forever.

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A complete list of the 2014-15 team awards:
Harshberger-Johnson-Brendel Prize for Sportsmanship, Loyalty and Leadership in Basketball - Katy Allen
Epton-Tarr Award - Renee Busch
Impact Player of the Year - Michelle Nwokedi
Defensive Player of the Year -Sydney Stipanovich
Team Leader - Kathleen Roche
Most Improved Player of the Year -Sade Gibbons
Miss Intangible -Kara Bonenberger

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