PHILADELPHIA - Senior Courtney Wilson and freshman Sydney Stipanovich chronicled the University of Pennsylvania women's basketball team's journey to the NCAA Tournament for the Philadelphia Daily News.
Ever since we were little girls playing basketball just for fun, we all looked up to the women playing in the NCAA Tournament. They were our idols and who we aspired to be one day.
Yesterday at 3 p.m., we became those women.
Our band and busloads of Penn fans made it down to Maryland to cheer us on. The environment was electric and we could not have asked for a better support system. It was not just for this one game, but for the entire season. We truly had a sixth man.
Our season may be done, and our seniors may have suited up for the last time, but once a member of the Quaker family, always a member of the Quaker family.
Yesterday afternoon after practice at the Palestra, our team made its way to the bus. We were about to leave for Maryland, but before we boarded, we were greeted by an energetic crowd. The band was playing, cheerleaders were cheering, and friends and faculty were there as well. It was the perfect send-off to get us pumped for our road trip. Need not forget, as we pulled away our mascot, the Quaker, ran along-side the bus for a final cheer.
Compared to some of our Ivy trips, this trip was a breeze being just 2 and a half hours. We ate snacks, chatted and watched a movie - the typical routine of our bus rides. Even though the circumstances of this trip are different from our previous games this year, we are not treating it any different. Coach McLaughlin highlighted throughout the week that the game is still the same: 40 minutes of play, 94 feet of court and the same goal in mind. We are focused on staying true to ourselves, playing our game and seizing the moment.
Yesterday was the first day of spring, and what better way to spend it than in a gym. But really, our team is exactly where we always wanted to be.
Much of the day was spent running around getting last-minute errands accomplished before we leave campus. Many of us met with our professors today as we are trying to stay ahead of our studies. We are heading to Maryland today after classes and practice for Sunday's NCAA Tournament game against Texas, and we could not be more excited to put what we have been working so hard for into play.
Another notable thing that happened yesterday was the start of the men's NCAA Tournament, and in the afternoon when the games began, we were all tuning in. We have players on our team from all over the country, and everyone is typically rooting for teams from their hometowns. We are also supporting other Ivy League and Big 5 schools and cheering for them all the way. While they are our competition during the regular season, we support them when it comes time for the tournament.
With all that happened today both on and off the court, it proves that spring and March Madness have finally arrived.
Yesterday was a reminder that even though our lives are focused on the game ahead, we are still Ivy League students, and school must come first. I had to study for an Economics quiz that I had first thing in the morning. Also, as a senior, I am continuously looking for a job post-graduation, so I followed up on interviews and applications. I then had to purchase my regalia, also known as cap and gown, for graduation.
All of our teammates are supporting one another through early mornings and late nights of studying. Life as a student-athlete forces all of our team to concentrate and stay on top of everything.
Once it comes time to practice though, the energy and focus remains high as we prepare for Sunday's game.
Yesterday we had individual workouts with the coaches that included shooting, ball-handling and agility drills to keep our fundamental skills sharp. As game day approaches, we continue to work toward being our best. Although our schedule can be extremely full as a student-athlete, there is not one of us who would trade this experience for anything. We have worked hard to get where we are and we constantly push each other to reach farther.
Walking into class following Selection Monday, the atmosphere was a little different. People were approaching me not about an assignment due, but instead, they were super excited and encouraging about the coming game.
A couple of minutes into class, a professor slowly grabbed a school newspaper out of his bag and acknowledged our team's Ivy League championship and 12-seed in the NCAA Tournament. His enthusiasm reflected that of the entire campus; people are excited and proud of our accomplishments and the bright journey ahead. It was just a small glimpse into the overwhelming response by the Penn student body and family.
As we gathered in our locker room to get ready for practice, good vibes were flowing. We put on our sneakers and chatted about the positive atmosphere around campus.
The focus of practice was about us and keeping the team unity that helped to define our success.
Following practice we got the details of the coming trip to College Park, Md. for Sunday's game vs. Texas, which only augmented our anticipation. As we prepare for our game, our friends, family and school are also making their plans to join us on this journey. Taking it one step at a time, we are focused and gearing up to go dancing.
"Special." That is the word that Coach [Mike] McLaughlin has been drilling into our heads since we arrived at Penn. "You have the chance to do something special"; "You have to be a special group and stay true to who you are"; and finally, "We did something special."
Now we have another chance to accomplish something special. We have worked towards this goal for 4 years and the time is now.
Last night as we eagerly awaited to see our name on the screen set up at the Palestra, with fans and the band cheering us on, emotions were running fast and high. Having the crowd and our Penn family made the experience all the better.
The moment came so fast for us that many missed the details, but slowly the information traveled: We are a 12-seed, playing Texas, Sunday at the University of Maryland, and on ESPN. Streamers were flying, fans were cheering and we were all ecstatic.
We have yet to play in a game of this magnitude, but we are sure that we can rise to the challenge. This will be another opportunity to distinguish ourselves as being "special."