The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

College

November 8, 2013

Lady Lions set to contend

STATE COLLEGE — Penn State added eight faces to the roster in the offseason, but it hasn’t tempered expectations.

Coach Coquese Washington, who has built a Big Ten power, has her No. 13 Lady Lions in a position to contend again, and optimism – as usual – reigns in Happy Valley.

But there might be some growing pains along the way. After all, sophomore guard Sierra Moore, a transfer, is new, as are freshmen guards KeKe Sevillian and Lindsay Spann, forwards Kaliyah Mitchell, Peyton Whitted, Alex Harris and Jenny DeGraaf and center Infiniti Alston.

“It’s certainly different,” Washington said. “It was a wonderful luxury having a veteran team the past few years – same returning starters, same core team. It’s certainly different because in some ways it’s almost like starting over, teaching new things to eight newcomers.”

Spann, recovering from a knee injury, and Moore, who must sit out a season after transferring from Duke, won’t play this season. The other six, however, are ready for action. Penn State opens vs. St. Francis tonight.

“I really like the energy that the freshmen are bringing. They play with a lot of energy,” Washington said. “I’m pretty optimistic on how they are going to perform on game days.”

They’ll have to cope with the loss of five seniors from last year’s squad – a group that advanced to the second round of the NCAA tournament – including starting point guard Alex Bentley, center Nikki Greene and forward Mia Nickson.

Part of Washington’s optimism stems from six returning players, including two starters. One is senior guard Maggie Lucas, the returning Big Ten Player of the Year. She averaged 20.3 points last year.

Here are five things to know about the Lady Lions as they prepare to begin the year:

Jumping into the deep end: No one can accuse Washington of scheduling cupcakes in her nonconference slate.  In the third game, No. 1 Connecticut visits the Bryce Jordan Center. Four games later, Washington’s former boss, Muffet McGraw, brings her No. 6 Notre Dame Fighting Irish to town. Then, just a couple weeks later, No. 16 Texas A&M will arrive.

“You might as well jump right into the deep end of the pool and swim. That’s the way we’re looking at it,” Washington said. “We want to be a program that plays the best teams in the country. We want to be one of those programs that plays against the marquee talent.”

Super standard: Despite the potential roadblocks, Washington’s expectations remain the same.

“Keep the standards high. Keep the expectations really high and they’ll meet them,” Washington said. “That’s how we’ve been coaching them the first few weeks of practice.”

Leaning on Lucas: Speaking of expectations, the senior guard is among 25 players who have been named to the preseason WBCA Wade Watch list for National Player of the Year. She’s also among the honorees on the John R. Wooden Award preseason Top 30 list.

The Big Ten’s coaches and media selected Lucas as the Big Ten Preseason Player of the Year, and she was a unanimous selection to the preseason All-Big Ten first team by the coaches and the media.

Home-court advantage: Penn State is one of 16 universities that will host the first- and second-round games in the NCAA tournament. Might the Lady Lions be shooting to play in those games?

“I don’t know about motivation, we are just trying to get through the first half of the season, with all of these newcomers,” Washington said. “It’s a great way for us to send out our seniors.”

In store for a three-peat?: Penn State is coming off back-to-back Big Ten regular-season titles, and last season’s was the fifth outright league crown for the Lady Lions. They also won in 2000, 2003 and 2004, and tied for the championship in 1994 and ‘95.

 

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