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Lady Lions Searching For Team Cohesion Ahead Of Postseason

Two weeks ago, Penn State women’s basketball beat Minnesota 80-64 but suffered a big loss when fifth-year senior guard Tay Valladay suffered a leg injury. She later announced she would be sidelined for the remainder of the season with a torn meniscus and ACL.

Valladay, a transfer from Virginia, averaged 11.5 points per game on 56.5% shooting from the field and a team-high 52.6% from three-point range.

Now, head coach Carolyn Kieger is looking for new players to step up in her absence.

“It’s heartbreaking when a fifth-year senior tears her ACL at the end of [her] career when [she was] playing as well as Taylor was. Tough last couple of weeks,” Kieger said. “We just gotta regroup and move on and help Taylor through it.”

The Lady Lions are a guard-heavy team and have the depth needed to fill the role Valladay played before the injury.

Freshman Moriah Murray has played 41 minutes over the team’s last two games, compared to an average of 4.5 over its previous 10 outings. Jayla Oden is averaging 13.6 minutes over the last five contests and played just 14 total minutes over the three games before those.

“Both of those players, Moriah Murray and Jayla Oden, are ready to step up,” Kieger said. “We’ve had a lot of conversations with them over the last couple days about what we need from them, what they need to replicate of what Taylor brought, and what they can bring individually. You don’t have to be Taylor. You have to be yourself.”

Alli Campbell, who was out with an injury for the majority of last season, is also starting to take on a bigger role for Penn State. Despite not scoring much, Campbell, who is in her second year with the blue and white, is making a big impact on the team.

“She’s starting to get near 100% physically, mentally, and emotionally. She brings such a high basketball IQ to our team,” Kieger said of the redshirt junior. “She’s got a lot of leadership. She talks through a lot of stuff. She helps people.”

The Lady Lions know they have the pieces and depth to make the NCAA Tournament, which Kieger has “been talking about all year.” However, the team will have to put the pieces together to reach that goal.

Kieger said the team’s mentality will be crucial with just five games remaining in the regular season, which is something they’ve seen as a key throughout the season.

“We talk about our lion mentality a lot, which is to live with pride and attack everything 100%,” she said.

The fifth-year head coach noted that some players are born with that mentality, while others pick it up over time, but believes “there’s no right or wrong answer” when it comes to someone’s mentality.

The “lion mentality” Kieger discussed will have to be shared among the team to remain on its winning track amid its best season in eight years.

“When it is a team sport, it’s the responsibility of myself, the staff, and the team to all have a collective shared identity, and I think that’s what we’re working to get back to,” Kieger said.

Penn State has three home games remaining this season, one of which will be played at Rec Hall. However, the team has two games before that one, with the first coming at 6 p.m. on Thursday, February 15, at the Bryce Jordan Center against Illinois.

The Fighting Illini are 11-12 overall and 5-8 in Big Ten play but are led by guards Makira Cook and Genesis Bryant, who are both averaging over 14 points per game.

“[Bryant] and Cook are both phenomenal guards, but they’re a really well-rounded team. I don’t think their record really shows how tough they are,” Kieger said. “We need to be locked in on building a wall around those two guards, making sure we have high hands and really just trying to make their life difficult when they drive those lanes.”

With new and returning faces stepping into bigger roles, Kieger and the Lady Lions hope to put their “lion mentality” and overall combined effort on display for the remainder of the season starting Thursday.

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About the Author

Michael Siroty

Michael Siroty is a freshman from Westfield, New Jersey, majoring in broadcast journalism. When he isn't writing articles or making TikToks for Onward State, Siroty is either taking a peaceful walk around Beaver Stadium or at his summer day camp job. You can contact him to discuss your sushi order or music taste on Instagram and Twitter @msiroty or by email at [email protected].

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