A look at this winter’s hot teams

The fall sports season drawing to a close has been mostly successful for Penn’s varsity teams, with football undefeated in Ivy League play as of press time and sprint football and men’s soccer also posting winning seasons.

But the recent chill in the air serves as a reminder that the winter season approaches. What are the teams to watch this season, and what are their prospects? We asked the Athletic Department staff and team coaches for their assessments.

Men’s Basketball

All five starters from last year’s Ivy (shared) and Big Five championship team are coming back, including 2001 Ivy Player of the Year Ugonna Onyekwe (EAS’04), and the team is generating national buzz. The Sporting News’ preseason poll ranks the Quakers 29th nationally, the highest Ivy team on the list, and ESPN.com has them ranked fourth in its preseason Mid-Major Top 10, saying, “The Ivy League hasn’t seen this kind of talent since ESPN went on the air.” But Coach Fran Dunphy harbors no illusions about this season being a cakewalk.

“The Yale guys had a great year last year,” Dunphy said of the team that forced a three-way playoff for the Ivy NCAA berth, “and they have everybody back. Brown [8-6 last year, fourth in the Ivies] has just about everybody back. We lost at Harvard last year, and they lost only one player, they’ll be great again. We lost at home to Columbia.”

In addition to the Ivy and Big Five series, the Quakers will also take on Providence, USC, and Colorado on the road, and Penn State at the Palestra (see “What’s On”). “We will play 27 games this year, and every one will be different,” Dunphy said. “We have our hands full. This is as challenging a schedule as we’ve ever had.”

Women’s Basketball

The 2001 Ivy League women’s basketball champions remain strong contenders, finishing second in the Ivies last year. All of last year’s players save one are returning this year; Athletic Communications Director Carla Schultzberg said, “We have a lot of experience this year.” Among the returnees are first team All-Ivy and All-Big Five Jewel Clark (C’04) and Big Five Rookie of the Year Karen Habrukowich (C’05).

Wrestling

The wrestling team’s tournament season is already under way, and its pursuit of a record-setting eighth straight Ivy title begins Jan. 31 against Cornell in Ithaca. Nationally, the team has finished in the top 20 at the NCAA tournament for four consecutive years, and coach Roger Reina said, “I believe we’ll be in the hunt for our fifth straight Top 20 finish by March—maybe higher.” In 2002, Penn finished 11th. Reina listed the NCAA tournament and the Midlands Open on Nov. 29 in Evanston, Ill., as Penn’s toughest meets. The team has a strong incoming class of wrestlers; Win magazine ranked Penn’s recruiting class number one in the nation.

Women’s Swimming

Coming back for 2002-03 are 10 Penn record holders, two 2002 All-Ivies and Katie Stores (C’05), the 2002 Ivy champion in the 200-meter freestyle. In addition, Coach Mike Schnur said, “We have a great group of freshmen. It’s hard to single out a few, but the earliest contributors should be Laura Hotaling (W’06), Kristen Kelly (C’06), Lauren Weinstein (C’06), Erica Gentilluci (C’06), So-young Kim (C’06) and Robyn Harm (C’06). Schnur said Princeton and Brown would be the team’s toughest opponents. The Quakers placed fifth in the Ivies last year and plan on improving on that finish this year.

Men’s Squash

Richard Repetto (C’05) returns for his second season of play for Penn this year, after a rookie year that included making the All-Ivy team (the only Penn player to do so) and being named an All-American after finishing 10th nationally. Penn tied for fifth place with Brown and Cornell last year, and coach Craig Thorpe-Clark expects to do at least as well this year—“on a par with Brown, Cornell and Dartmouth,” he said. The team has several promising freshman recruits, including Jacob Himmelrich (C’06), Colby Emerson (C’06) and Steven Klaiman (C’06).

Originally published on November 14, 2002