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It’s Time For The Lady Lions To Move On From Carolyn Kieger

A coaching change is needed in State College.

It’s been nearly five years since Carolyn Kieger was hired as the head coach of Penn State women’s basketball. In those five years, the Lady Lions have notched just one winning season, recorded one Big Ten Tournament win, and never made a postseason appearance beyond conference play.

After five years and little results, it’s past time for Penn State to hit the reset button on its women’s basketball program.

Let’s start from the beginning.

Kieger’s hiring is still fascinating. A Marquette alumna, Kieger was nearing the top of women’s collegiate basketball at the helm of her alma mater. She took the Golden Eagles to their first Big East Tournament title and two regular-season titles. She coached Marquette in three straight NCAA Tournaments, which served as the three final years of her five at Marquette.

Then, she left. After proving she could take her alma mater to national prominence, Kieger took off for Penn State. Her stated reason has always been that she liked the challenge, and she wanted to take the Lady Lions through a rebuild and make something of it.

Rebuild has been the defining word of the program. It was one of the first words used to describe Kieger’s hiring. Several seasons later, Kieger makes sure to tell anyone who will listen that Penn State is still in that rebuild.

After the Lady Lions’ latest loss to Ohio State, it’s time to say the rebuild is fundamentally insecure. The tale of Kieger’s tenure has been redundancy after redundancy, and the 2023-24 season is just another example of her shortcomings while coaching Penn State.

Throughout her time at Penn State thus far, the Lady Lions beat up on a few non-conference opponents, and Kieger talks about how her team is setting records at Penn State. This year, the Lady Lions were even ranked, however briefly.

After getting through non-conference play, the Lady Lions struggle against Big Ten opponents. They end the season with a losing streak that carries into the Big Ten Tournament as the team simply cannot survive the end-of-season haul. Whether it’s the Lady Lions’ aggressive style of play that wears the team out or something within the locker room, Kieger’s teams just haven’t been built for February.

It was just a few weeks ago that the Lady Lions were pinned as a top-10 seed in the NCAA Tournament. As of Tuesday, February 27, Penn State is listed as one of the first four teams left out of March Madness in ESPN’s Bracketology. In an event where the Lady Lions don’t make an end-of-season surge, which seems unlikely, Penn State will go another year without making the NCAA Tournament.

With all due props to Kieger, this will still go down as her best season as Penn State’s head coach. Penn State should still reach the WNIT and finish with Kieger’s first winning season representing Penn State.

However, the issue with Kieger isn’t that she’ll never be good enough. Penn State’s next season will probably be better than this one, as will the one that follows that.

The issue with Kieger is simply that there are better options available. Penn State can continue to play the long game with Kieger and hope one day she can learn how to coach a team all the way through a season. However, at this point, it’s OK to say it’s time to move on.

Penn State men’s basketball hired Micah Shrewsberry and reached the NCAA Tournament in Shrewsberry’s second year at the helm. Penn State hired Mike Rhoades the season after and, while the Nittany Lions are far shout from the NCAA Tournament, a national tournament appearance still seems likely in the Rhoades’ first year in charge.

Sure, these are outliers compared to what most coaches can do. But Penn State, specifically Vice President for Intercollegiate Athletics Pat Kraft, has shown that it can make the right hires for a basketball program.

It’s not worth waiting for Kieger to see if her transfer portal haul from the upcoming offseason will finally be the one to put the Lady Lions into national prominence. It won’t be enough.

Earlier in the season, Kieger said Penn State was a Sweet Sixteen team, and it was hard to disagree with her at the time. The Lady Lions were certainly flying under the radar but heating up with good results against good teams. Getting two wins in the NCAA Tournament certainly wasn’t out of the question.

Now, it seems Penn State won’t win 18 games.

Kieger’s team is doomed to fall short yet again. It’s of no fault to the players, who put together strong individual efforts throughout the season. Regardless of Kieger’s coaching abilities, the likes of Shay Ciezki, Makenna Marisa, Leilani Kapinus, and Ashley Owusu are still massive talents. They’re just not coached well enough to win the awards they deserve.

Still, Kieger will first blame the team’s shortcomings on her players. It’s only when asked about her own shortcomings that Kieger will admit she has any. It took some pressing after the Ohio State loss to get her to talk about the specifics of what she could do for her team, which were the bare minimum.

Penn State has the resources to win in basketball. We’ve seen it before Kieger’s era. We’ve seen it with the last several men’s teams.

Penn State doesn’t have the right coach. The Carolyn Kieger experiment has failed, and it’s time to move on.

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About the Author

Joe Lister

Joe is a junior journalism major at Penn State and an associate editor at Onward State. He covers Penn State football and enjoys yelling on Twitter about Philadelphia/Penn State sports. He also listens to Mac Miller more than you. If you want to find him, Joe's usually watching soccer with his shirt off or at the gym with his shirt on. Please send all positive affirmations and/or hate mail toward him on Twitter (iamjoelister) or via email ([email protected]).

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