Season Preview: Lady Lions Work Toward National Reemergence
Penn State women’s basketball has uncharacteristically struggled in its past two seasons — posting a combined record of 18-43. This followed one of the most dominant stretches in program history where the Alex Bently and Maggie Lucas-led Lady Lions rattled off three-straight Big Ten regular season titles and coach Coquese Washington earned Big Ten Coach of the Year in each of those seasons.
The standard has been different in the Bryce Jordan Center since the dominant run from 2011-2014. With many young faces trying to lead a successful program, Penn State has fallen off its pedestal as the pride of the Big Ten.
With much of their core returning this year and the introduction of a few key freshmen, the Lady Lions could start making their way back to the national spotlight with a successful season.
If Penn State is going to make some noise in the Big Ten this year, it might start with the return of freshman phenom Teniya Page. Page led the team in scoring last season averaging 15.3 points per game and earned spots on the All-Big Ten Second Team and Freshman Team.
“Well, I’ve been really impressed so far with Teniya Page and how she’s returned,” Washington said. “I think she’s somebody that can be one of the best point guards in the country with continued growth, with continued development and with continued confidence. She’s returned, come back to campus in really good form in all aspects.”
Coming off such an impressive freshman season, it’s easy to fall into the sophomore slump trap. Part of that might have to do with a new crop of expectations being placed on a young player, but Page isn’t reading much into those expectations. She’s just ready to get back on the court.
“I’m just excited to play,” Page said. “I haven’t set anything down for myself to look forward to this season, I’m just ready to play.”
Page is just one of the many quality guards Penn State has on its roster. With that, the Lady Lions have changed their style of play in the offseason — they’re planning on playing faster and sending out a smaller lineup to help with that.
Washington plans to start three guards — Page, Lindsey Spann, and Amari Carter — along with two forwards — Kaliyah Mitchell and Peyton Whitted.
Losing 6’6 center Candace Agee, the Lady Lions were always going to put out a smaller team on the floor. But Washington’s new lineup is stressing speed and wing play in a much more dynamic style. You can expect her to play around with this gameplan on an opponent-by-opponent basis.
“I think we have a lot of versatility on our team this year,” Washington said. “The versatility we have on our roster is going to allow us to play different lineups to match up with other teams and play different lineups to create mismatches for our opponents.”
One of the focuses on versatility with this new style will be facilitated by the 6’3 senior Whitted on the low post.
“Utilizing me at the center would help a lot with us playing faster,” Whitted said. “It just makes things a lot faster for the team because I’m not really a center, I’m a forward.”
There’s certainly a lot of back-court players on the roster, but also a number of young players. Freshmen could be playing a significant role this year — the main rookie in the starting lineup is redshirt freshman Amari Carter.
The 5’8 guard was sidelined all of last season after injuring her knee in the opener against Holy Cross. This year, she’ll be playing a key role alongside guards Page and Spann.
The two true freshmen of the roster are Jaida Travascio-Green and Siyeh Frazier. 6’2 guard Travascio-Green could make an immediate impact off the bench, which she showed in the exhibition against Bloomsburg with nine points in 22 minutes of action.
“Jaida Travascio-Green is a fantastic three-point shooter,” Washington said. “At 6’2″, she has the ability to see over people, to shoot over people and to knock down shots.”
With such a young roster — nine of the team’s 14 players are freshmen or sophomores — it could be up to the Lady Lions’ three seniors to provide that leadership and allow this team to reach its potential.
Between seniors Whitted and Mitchell on the low post, and redshirt senior guard Sierra Moore in the back court, the Lady Lions will have some experience to draw upon in crucial parts of the season. Whitted remembers her earlier years with the team and is ready to step into that leadership role as necessary.
“I think its important that we set the example, set the tone, and just encourage them,” Whitted said. “We were in their shoes before when it gets tough. You know, freshman year and sophomore year are your hardest years. The coaches are on you and it’s a lot of stuff to take in. So we’re just making sure that we encourage them and making them stay positive, and leading by example to help them get better along the way.”
Washington has been pleased with her senior veterans phasing in this new group of players as the team heads toward the season opener.
“They’ve impressed me with their focus and their increased work ethic,” Washington said “Typically with seniors, you want to see that and we’ve seen that out of them so I anticipate those two could be poised to have really fantastic senior campaigns.”
The Lady Lions will get their chance to start anew on Friday on the road against Drexel before opening the BJC slate against Saint Peter’s on Sunday. The last two years may have been difficult for Penn State, but the rebuilding process has taken its strides as the Lady Lions hope to reach the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2014.
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