“I should’ve known it was the wrong decision when I called Coquese to tell her I wasn’t coming [to Penn State] and I started crying.”
Senior guard Sierra Moore remembers the conversation she had with Lady Lions’ coach Coquese Washington well. The 5-foot-11 star out of Delone Catholic High School in southern Pennsylvania was informing the coach of her decision to commit to Duke over the local team she had grown up watching.
Moore would play 25 games for the ACC school during the 2012-13 season before she switched course. She would come back home to play for the Lady Lions.
Now a fifth-year senior who’s experienced just about everything in her college career, she’s the leader of a young squad transitioning back to the premier basketball Penn State women were once known for.
Without Washington at the helm, however, she may not have ever gotten the chance to reverse her original college choice.
“Her welcoming me back without any hesitation was really great,” Moore said. “When I was ready to transfer, I knew that’s where I wanted to go and I called her up as soon as I was allowed to and I told her that I wanted to come back.”
Moore had to sit out a year per NCAA rules with the transfer, but that wouldn’t be the only battle she would face to get on the court at the Bryce Jordan Center.
The first season she played with the Lady Lions, she earned a Big Ten honorable mention despite the team struggling as much as it ever had — posting a 6-24 record. Moore played in all 30 games, getting the start in each, scoring a team second-best 12.1 points per game.
With a stellar freshman class coming in featuring two five-star prospects, things were looking up for Penn State with a key guard in Moore returning to the fold. She stood out immediately and set the tone for one of those touted prospects, now sophomore star Teniya Page.
“The thing I saw from Sierra on my official [visit] was how aggressive she was,” Page said. “Just how confident she was and she brought it every single day.”
There would be another year-long setback for Moore — one that was much more difficult to return from than missing a season due to transfer rules.
Moore tore her ACL in what she describes as a freak accident in the preseason of the run-up to the Lady Lions’ redemption run in 2015. The sidelined starter was missed as her team once again struggled to produce results, this time without the tenacious playmaker.
“She’s a kid that she makes plays in different ways,” Washington said. “Whether it’s coast-to-coast or rebound and coast-to-coast or a big defensive play or getting to the free throw line. She just has a knack for making a big play. We missed that last year. We missed that competitive fire. We missed those impact plays that she would make during the game.”
The process of returning from an injury like this was something she never experienced before and doesn’t wish on anyone. She went through her first major injury, her first surgery — all to get back to be able to play out her senior season.
It was going to take a lot of willpower and determination to make it back to the lineup once again.
“Right after you tear your ACL and you get surgery, it’s a matter of if you want to work back to the way you were before or not,” Moore said. “I knew I wanted to be back out there and I wanted to go stronger than ever.”
Washington knew her guard was itching to get back on the court as she watched her teammates continue to push the Lady Lions forward. For the coach, it was about Moore letting the recovery run its course so she could get back and be at her best for her final season.
“The rehab is so tedious that sometimes you want to go faster than what is smart to do,” Washington said. “For her, it was the tediousness. It was the ‘Sierra, no. I know you feel like you can jump, but you can’t jump. I know you feel like you can run, but you can’t run yet.'”
Through all the work she put in and the patience she had in recovery, Moore made it back for the season.
She has played in every game this season, but only recently was promoted to a starting role. With the newfound depth of the team, Moore needed time to regain her prominent role.
As the season hits the homestretch, Moore’s become more and more critical to the Lady Lions’ success. Averaging 9.6 points per game, she’s reached double figures in five of the last six — including a season-high 19-point effort in a win over Illinois.
Having Moore back on the court is important for the Lady Lions. Yes, for the skilled player and competitor she is, but also for the type of person you get with her around.
“She’s one of the funniest people on the team, and she can do that before games and when they blow the whistle for us for the jump ball, she’s always competitive and on top of whatever she needs to do,” Page said. “Having Sierra back, I love it, the team loves it, and it’s something we didn’t have last year. It’s something that we definitely missed.”
Moore’s college career is winding down with just three regular season games left plus whatever postseason action the Lady Lions might get.
It’s not something she wants to focus on at the moment, with her eyes set on the very next game ahead. But she does have plans for when her time in Happy Valley is complete. The WNBA is a long-term goal, but she sees herself playing professionally overseas this time next year.
For now, it’s all about the final chapter of her and her fellow seniors’ Penn State journey.
“I think as a senior and with my other seniors that have been here with me throughout all of this,” Moore said. “We’ve battled through a lot of things, and I just am proud of them and myself for being able to withstand the battles we’ve had. We don’t want it to be over yet. We’re taking it one game at a time.”