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Leilani Kapinus Leading Way For Scrappy Lady Lions Defense

Penn State women’s basketball doesn’t always play pretty basketball.

Its recent win over Purdue was never certain, even though the Lady Lions led for nearly the entire game. The team’s defense, which is one of the more impressive groups in the country, was forced to play a physical, aggressive game to keep the Boilermakers from pulling ahead.

According to head coach Carolyn Kieger, though, the team’s scrappy play was all part of the plan.

“Really, what we wanted to do is be tough tonight,” she said. “In order to win Big Ten games, we’re gonna have to get on the floor for every loose ball. You’re going to have to be physical down low and get some rebounds.”

Penn State’s efforts were led by sophomore guard Leilani Kapinus, who totaled seven steals, 12 rebounds, and a single block. Kapinus’ late game steal-and-score capped off her 17-point performance as the Lady Lions fought through the fourth quarter to hold onto the win.

Kapinus’ big game was just the latest in her breakout season as one of the premier defensive players in the NCAA. Thus far, the guard has recorded 52 steals and 13 blocks. After her game against Purdue, Kapinus reached 3.25 steals per game — good enough for best in the Big Ten and 10th-best in the country.

“She just continues to get better,” Kieger said after the Purdue game. “I think when she locks in mentally, emotionally, and physically, she’s one of the best defenders in the country.”

Kapinus said that her teammates are her best motivation, pushing her to be one of the best in college basketball in just her second year.

“I think I was just feeding off my teammates’ energy,” she said. “They were backing me up, hyping me up. That starts in practice — just feeding off of each other’s energy. It goes a long way, especially when shots are not falling.”

One of those teammates is senior guard Makenna Marisa, who is a key contributor to Penn State’s defense herself. She is averaging 1.94 steals per game, which ranks No. 9 in the Big Ten. She’s also second on the team in steals and third in blocks.

While Kapinus doesn’t like to speak about herself, Marisa was more than happy to.

“She’s a hard worker, she does it in practice too. It starts in practice and she pressures us, and then you see it out on the court,” Marisa said. “You see exactly what she does in practice and she’s going to keep doing that, putting pressure on teams.”

“She’s the steals GOAT,” she continued.

The Lady Lions aren’t sure how long their season will last, but they’ll continue to rely on Kapinus down the stretch to anchor their defensive unit.

“She’s getting there, but her potential is through the roof,” said Kieger. “We have to keep challenging her and keep coaching her up because she literally has the potential to be a nightmare on the defense.”

“She’s going to keep getting in the gym and she’s going to keep getting better for this team,” Kieger continued. “I know we have really high aspirations to play in March, and it happens one game at a time.”

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About the Author

Joe Lister

Joe is a sophomore journalism major at Penn State. He enjoys yelling into the Twitter void over various sports items that don't really matter. If you ever want to meet him, Joe's usually watching soccer with his shirt off or at the gym with his shirt on. Find (and disagree with him) on Twitter (Joe_Lister21) or by email ([email protected])

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