The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA


November 7, 2012

Lady Lions go into season as Big Ten favorites

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.

Text Only | Photo Reprints
  • racin 0416 Jennerstown Speedway gearing for May open

    Jennerstown Speedway released a very ambitious schedule on its website and continues to prepare for its 2014 reopening.
    The track is set to hold a practice day for drivers as well as an open house and media day on April 26.

    April 16, 2014 2 Photos

  • ‘Hawks already building toward next season

    Jason Spence used up his cell phone’s battery on a trip from Johnstown to his parents’ home in Nova Scotia, Canada.
    Once the Johnstown Tomahawks coach got to his destination, Spence had to get creative to secure cell service across the border.

    April 16, 2014

  • Pirates 0416 Dominant Cueto drops Pirates in matinee

    That playoff loss in Pittsburgh last year? Johnny Cueto never thought about it much. So getting a chance to shut out the Pirates in a rematch wasn’t any more special.

    April 16, 2014 1 Photo

  • Penguins 0416 Penguins rally to wear out Jackets

    Brandon Sutter scored on a wrist shot from the left circle 8:18 into the third period, helping the Pittsburgh Penguins rally for a 4-3 victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals on Wednesday night.
    Beau Bennett and Matt Niskanen scored power-play goals 45 seconds apart in the second period, erasing Pittsburgh’s two-goal deficit.

    April 16, 2014 1 Photo

  • Shelley and McElligot Series serves as reunion for former Chiefs personnel

    Not so long ago, Bob McElligott, like most Western Pennsylvania hockey fans, would savor a long Pittsburgh Penguins playoff run.
    The Somerset native followed the Pens’ Stanley Cup-winning teams in 1991 and 1992.

    April 15, 2014 1 Photo

  • Malkin nearing return

    The Columbus Blue Jackets are the closest NHL team to the Pittsburgh Penguins, at least geographically. The two franchises are separated by 185 miles of highway.

    April 15, 2014

  • Reds swing way past Pirates

    Mike Leake doubled and hit a two-run homer Tuesday night, ending Gerrit Cole's winning streak and leading the Cincinnati Reds to a 7-5 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates that completed two days full of homers and delays.
    First, the NL Central rivals completed a game that was suspended in the sixth inning because of rain the previous night.

    April 15, 2014

  • Pitt ends its spring practices

    No tailgating.
    No trip to a local high school.

    April 15, 2014

  • Pirates Game 1 0415 Pirates edge out Reds in suspended game

    After all those home runs and an overnight delay, it was settled by a single.
    Andrew McCutchen doubled and came around on Russell Martin’s single in the seventh inning on Tuesday, giving the Pittsburgh Pirates an 8-7 victory over the Cincinnati Reds in the completion of a game that spanned two days and 10 home runs.

    April 15, 2014 1 Photo

  • track_B1 WestPAC relays go to Windber boys, Berlin girls

    Rain showers and dropping temperatures put a damper on Monday’s WestPAC Relays at Berlin Brothersvalley High School.
    For the Berlin girls and the boys from Windber, however, discomfort was not much of a factor.
    The Mountaineers won their third straight relay title while the Ramblers reclaimed the title from defending champ Shade.

    April 14, 2014 2 Photos