UNIVERSITY PARK — Want to know who is going to put points on the board for the Penn State women’s basketball team next season?
So does coach Coquese Washington.
“I don’t know where our scoring is going to come from,” admitted Washington during her season-ending news conference on Wednesday. “You talk about going into this past season with some unknowns? It’s a whole bunch of unknowns coming into this season now.”
Washington’s club (24-8) won its third consecutive Big Ten regular-season title and advanced to the Sweet 16 in the NCAA Tournament before falling to Final Four qualifier Stanford.
But the senior losses from that team are huge. Two-time Big Ten Player of the Year Maggie Lucas (21.0), Big Ten first team member Ariel Edwards (15.7), conference Defensive Player of the Year Dara Taylor (11.7) and league honorable mention selection Talia East (8.1) provided more than 75 percent of the team’s points 75.1 points per game this past season.
At 4.8 points per game, Tori Waldner is the leading returning scorer and only returning starter. She’ll be the lone senior next season.
That leaves the bulk of the starting positions for last season’s freshmen, two other players who did not see action and rising junior Candice Agee.
Washington says her team has its work cut out for it.
“There’s got to be a ton of growth, a ton of individual growth and development,” the three-time defending Big Ten Coach of the Year. “We’ll probaly do a lot of things differently, but our essence will still be the same. We will still be an uptempo team and aggressive defensively. But, it probably won’t look the same. I know you won’t see anyone like Maggie shooting from the 3-point line. Where we’ll get the points from and how we’ll get the points, I’m not sure. We’re going to see how they develop over the course of spring and summer.”
Her younger players know they face a challenge.
“Definitely we lost a lot of points,” forward Peyton Whitted said. “We’re just going to have to work twice as hard to get ready because they had really big roles. A lot of people are going to have to step up.”
The loss of the four seniors is daunting, but presents another feeling for the returnees.
“It’s bittersweet,” forward Kaliyah Mitchell said. “You hate to see them leave, but at the same time there are other doors that are opening for a lot of other people. We’re all trying to get better.”
Washington is sure her younger players will improve. History tells her so. She points to Taylor, East and especially Edwards, who doubled her scoring average from her junior season, as examples.
“I think every year a somebody or a couple of somebodies surprise us because they really take the spring and summer to get better,” Washington said. “Their confidence grows. Kids take advantage of opportunities. If anybody sat in this room last year and said they knew what kind of senior year Ariel Edwards was going to have, then hat’s off to them.
“I’m not sure what the specifics are going to be, but I’m really optimistic and pleased with who we have and their drive, passion and desire to be better. I think that will be the driving force in the offseason.”
Washington technically does not have an incoming freshman class, but she does have two new players for next season.
Freshman point guard Lindsey Spann was a medical redshirt after suffering a knee injury last summer. Swing player Sierra Moore sat out a season as per NCAA rules after transferring from Duke.
Unlike an incoming freshman class, both had a season to practice with the team.
“It was a good decision for me to come right into the school and get at it,” said Moore, who scored 2,595 points at Delone Catholic High School. “Even though I couldn’t play on the court, I still did everything with them in practice. I learned everything that they learned.”
“I think they are going to do great things next year,” Mitchell said of Spann and Moore. “I think they will make a big impact.”
Returning players are currently lifting weights prior to two weeks of individual sessions with Lady Lion coaches. Most say they will be back on campus for the second session of summer school and using free time to condition and play together.
Players say the conditioning sessions are important preparation for the coming season.
“They played a lot of minutes,” Whitted said of the seniors. “I don’t think any of us know what it takes to play a full game. That’s probably going to be the biggest, just being in shape.”
“It’s very important,” Moore added. “The conditioning we do in the second summer session is what makes our team.”
“They got an up-close and personal look at what it takes to compete at this level,” Washington said. “At the same time, they have a hunger, a passion and a drive to push the needle a little bit farther. We’ve got a lot of work to do and they’ve got a lot of work to do individually.”
While the eye is on the future, Washington had praise for her seniors, the school’s second most winning class with 101 wins, and her younger players for winning a third consecutive Big Ten regular-season title and advancing to the Sweet 16 in the NCAA Tournament.
“I was really proud of the team,” Washington said. “I was was really proud of how they grew over the course of the season. There was a lot of uncertainty, a lot of unknowns when we started the season. We talked about all season that it was going to be a journey of discovery, a season of us finding out about ourselves. I was really thrilled with the growth I saw from the team collectively and a lot of individual players.”
“I thought it was a good season,” added Taylor. “A lot of good pieces came together. We accomplished a lot of what we wanted to accomplish.”
Follow Walt Moody on Twitter @wmoodyCDT.