STATE COLLEGE —
Up by 20 points, or down 20.
A preseason practice in an empty gym, or a Big Ten road game with title implications on the line.
No matter the situation, Penn State’s enthusiasm doesn’t seem to waver.
Confident and collected, the eighth-ranked Lady Lions are the preseason Big Ten favorites. Senior point guard Alex Bentley leads the way for a veteran team with the potential to play well into March.
They seem to be just as happy playing hoops in October and November, too. The new season starts Sunday with a visit from Howard.
“They love being in front of a big crowd. They love being in front of nobody,” Penn State coach Coquese Washington said about her team. “As long as we have a ball, and a court, and a rim, what could be better than that?”
Well, a second straight Big Ten title and a deep run in the NCAA tournament would be a good start. Penn State (26-7,
13-3) is coming off its first NCAA regional semifinals appearance and first regular-season Big Ten title since 2004.
It’s a natural progression after steady improvement under Bentley and this core of players the last few years, from budding rebuilding project to preseason Top 10 program. Penn State has its highest preseason ranking since starting 2003-04 at No. 7.
But the Lions promise they’re not focused on those expectations, though they seem pretty confident about how good the team can be.
“We just want to be playing our best at the end of the year. That’s about it,” Bentley said after Saturday’s 95-39 exhibition win over Division II California, Pa. “We’re going to try and get better each and every day, but as long as we’re playing at our highest potential at the end of the year, we’re going to be happy.”
Bentley (14.1 points, 4.7 assists) is the sparkplug for the potent offense, someone Washington, in her sixth year, labels as one of the most competitive players she’s ever mentored.
“This is her team,” Washington said. “And we’ll go where she leads us.”
It helps to have a backcourt mate like returning leading scorer Maggie Lucas (19.5 points), a prolific shooter with a “gym rat” mentality who also improved last year at getting into the lane.
The stories are endless about Lucas’ work ethic and countless hours spent shooting in empty gyms. But Lucas, now a junior, has learned to sense when “enough is enough ... you don’t have to go overboard,” Washington said.
Last week after the preseason win, Lucas sported a satisfied grin and offered a cordial “Hello everyone” as she entered the postgame interview room, looking as if the team had just won a hard-fought conference game in February.
For all the offensive firepower provided by Lucas and Bentley, the Lions’ backcourt stars know defense is key.
Asked how the 2012 team compared to last year’s squad, Bentley immediately recalled last season’s preseason exhibition contest against Division II Bloomsburg.
“Maggie pointed out that in last year’s exhibition game,” Bentley said, “we gave up a lot more points.”
“Like 80,” Lucas interrupted, looking over at Bentley.
Actually it was a 101-81 win over Bloomsburg, but still was way too many to give up to an inferior opponent.
“I love my teammates for stepping up on defense,” Bentley said. “We have a lot to improve on, but we’re going to be good. We’re going to get there.”
The addition of Maryland transfer Dara Taylor should help. A 2009 McDonald’s High School All-American, Taylor is happy to be back on the court after having to redshirt last season due to NCAA transfer rules.
Washington relishes the chance to have Taylor and Bentley learn from each other because of their contrasting styles.
Taylor is more of a pass-first traditional point guard who is getting more comfortable in looking to score. Her 171 assists in 2009-10 set a Maryland freshman assist record.
Bentley is a scoring point guard who has learned under Washington to get her teammates involved.
“I love playing with Dara. I know when she steps on the court, we’re about to be playing a lot faster,” Bentley said. “Her bringing up the ball is nice because I like playing the twosome. So, it’s a good look.”
There is experience in the frontcourt, too, with Nikki Greene (9.8 points) and Mia Nickson (8.5 points), who shared the team lead for rebounds last year (7.8).
Six-foot-3 junior Ariel Edwards (7.0 points, 4.3 rebounds) gives Washington versatility on the court. The bench includes four other returning players who logged at least 8.8 minutes a game, plus incoming McDonald’s High School All American Candice Agee, a 6-foot-6 forward/center.
“We have a lot of weapons and a lot of pieces that are versatile. We can mix and match to compete with whoever we are playing,” Washington said.
It’s the kind of roster that would make any coach smile about the possibilities.
STATE COLLEGE —
Up by 20 points, or down 20.
Two from Somerset earn all-state honors
Defensive lineman Bryce Mostoller and linebacker Logan Eller each played a large part in the resurgence of Somerset football over the last two seasons.
Their efforts during the 2013 season – the junior campaigns for both – landed the pair on the Pennsylvania Football Writers’ Class AAA All-State Team, which was released on Thursday.
No players from The Tribune-Democrat’s coverage area were selected to the Class A squad, also released on Thursday.
Northern Cambria volleyball coach inducted into hall of fame
With 400-plus wins, two PIAA Class A girls volleyball championships and nine District 6 crowns amassed, Mike Hogan can add another accolade to his ongoing coaching legacy at Northern Cambria: Hall of famer.
Hogan, the girls and boys coach at Northern Cambria, was inducted into the Pennsylvania Volleyball Coaches Association Hall of Fame earlier in the month, allowing the veteran coach to join a number of players and coaches who influenced his own path through the sport.
Steelers Brown closing in on records
The memory has never really gone away. It’s still in the back of Antonio Brown’s mind, gnawing at him during the long workouts, the ones he doesn’t talk about and his teammates only mention in somewhat reverent tones.
Six rounds. Nearly 200 players. How was it possible for 194 other players to be taken ahead of him in the 2010 NFL Draft? Even now, in the midst of the breakout season he always believed would come, the Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver doesn’t want to think about it.
Prestigious awards focus attention on Pitt’s Donald
With all media attention he’s received this season, one might believe that Pittsburgh senior defensive tackle Aaron Donald craves his private time.
But that’s not the case, even though the history making Donald gets recognized much more often around the city after a weeklong awards tour that saw him pick a handful of some of the most prestigious trophies in college football.
- High school basketball in brief | Dec. 20, 2013
Penguins beat Wild for sixth straight win
Chris Kunitz scored his 19th goal, Sidney Crosby had two assists and the Pittsburgh Penguins jumped out to a four-goal lead before beating the Minnesota Wild 5-2 Thursday night for their season-high sixth straight victory.
Rookie defenseman Olli Maatta sealed the Penguins’ win when he scored on a third-period penalty shot. Pascal Dupuis and Brandon Sutter each scored for the second consecutive game, and defenseman Matt Niskanen also tallied for Pittsburgh, which has won 11 of 12 overall and a nine straight home game.
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