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Season Preview: Dawn Of New Era For Lady Lions

Five years. That’s how long it’s been since Penn State women’s basketball made it to the NCAA Tournament.

This drought plagued the final years of Coquese Washington’s contract with the Lady Lions, and one disappointing season after another gave fans very little to be excited about.

During the 2018-2019 season, Washington led the team to a 12-18 record and a first-round exit from the Big Ten Tournament. At this point, things looked as grim as ever for a program that was in significant need of change.

The arrival of new head coach Carolyn Kieger seems to be the answer Penn State women’s basketball has been looking for. The former Golden Eagle is bringing a major culture change to the locker room, along with a renewed sense of confidence and motivation.

Kieger made it clear from day one that she has her sights set on an NCAA tournament berth and a national championship. While neither of these goals will be achieved overnight, there’s no denying that we’ve entered a new era of Penn State women’s basketball.

This era officially kicks off Tuesday, November 5 when Kieger’s squad squares off against Towson.

Projected Starters

  • Guard: Makenna Marisa
  • Guard: Kamaria McDaniel
  • Guard: Siyeh Frazier
  • Forward: Lauren Ebo
  • Forward/Guard: Alisia Smith and Mya Bembry

With the exception of freshmen Makenna Marisa and Mya Bembry, this projected starting five consists of veteran players who have plenty of experience playing together on the court.

Siyeh Frazier started all 30 games during the 2018-2019 season, while Kamaria McDaniel and Lauren Ebo saw action in 30 and 29 games, respectively. Alisia Smith also had a consistent role in the rotation, starting a total of 23 games before suffering a season-ending injury.

This injury is one of the reasons why it’s unclear whether Smith will be thrown into the action right away. Bembry started instead of her during the exhibition game against Kutztown. The veteran played a total of nine minutes off the bench and scored two points.

Smith is an important asset to the team, so if she’s healthy and ready to go, I fully expect her to start each game and play more minutes than most.

The Guards

Now that she is a senior, Frazier will lead the way for this talented group. Frazier was the team’s second-leading scorer last season, racking up an average of 9.9 points per game. She also has a keen ability to rebound and can be a menace on defense — leading the team in steals with a whopping total of 48 last season.

Kamaria McDaniel will also play a major role in the Lady Lions’ success. She averaged 9.7 points per game last year and had a total of 15 double-doubles. In the recent exhibition game against Kutztown, McDaniel completely dominated the floor, tallying 25 points and 10 rebounds and igniting a much-needed spark under the offense.

Nia Staples, a graduate transfer from West Virginia, will certainly add depth and experience to this group, which Coach Kieger noted in her opening season press conference.

The Nittany Lions also added several new young guards to the roster who will need to step in and fill the void left behind by the injury of sharp-shooter Jaida Travascio-Green. Makenna Marisa, Shay Hagans, and Mya Bembry are three exciting young players that stand out.

Marisa and Bembry earned the starting nod in the exhibition game and Bembry racked up eight points and eight rebounds. Hagans also showed that she can be a threat off the bench when utilizing her speed and ability to score to boost the Penn State offense.

The Forwards

Could this be the year Lauren Ebo comes into her own? Kieger certainly thinks so.

“If she’s not one of the most improved players in the Big Ten this year, I will be shocked,” she said.

Ebo had a busy summer working on getting into better shape and changing her eating habits. The sophomore’s increased level of fitness and mobility on the floor will pay big dividends this season.

As a freshman, Ebo averaged 5.7 points and 5.8 rebounds per game and quickly evolved into a reliable option for Coquese Washington. Although she had a knack for getting herself into foul trouble, her presence in the game was known by opponents. There’s no doubt Ebo will take on a much bigger role this year and the expectations for her going into the season are high.

Junior Alisia Smith will likely take on the biggest role for this position group, as she’s the most consistent and talented of the returning players. Before suffering an Achilles injury last season, Smith was averaging 9.5 points and 7.1 rebounds per game. She’s seen plenty of playing time over the last two years with the Lady Lions and will utilize this experience as she prepares to take on more of a leadership role with the team. Once Smith is 100% healthy and done with her rehab, she’ll create havoc on the court.

Freshman Anna Camden and sophomore Bexley Wallace add depth to this position group, but only time will tell before we see how their roles evolve over the course of the season.

Outlook

Kieger’s players will be put to the test this season — especially in Big Ten play where they’ll face off against plenty of ranked opponents. In the preseason polls, Michigan State, Minnesota, Indiana, and Michigan all landed in the Top 25.

There will be numerous challenges and kinks to work out as this new era of Penn State women’s basketball gets underway. Kieger has emphasized the fact that she’s asking her players to learn a completely different style of play, so growing pains are clearly inevitable.

Overall, the new energy Kieger brings to the team and Bryce Jordan Center has reignited a spark and created excitement that has been noticeably missing in recent years. Winning is back in the picture and the Lady Lions are ready to make a big statement.

Kieger will aim to secure her 100th career win as a coach and first leading the Lady Lions when they take on Towson Tuesday night.

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About the Author

Rory Pelella

Rory is a sophomore from Binghamton, New York and one of Onward State's News Editors. She has been bleeding blue and white ever since her older siblings decided to create a family dynasty in Happy Valley. She loves anything Penn State (especially Yallah), the Yankees and Giants, and a good old fashioned New York slice. Feel free to email her at [email protected] or follow her on twitter @rorypelella.

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