This time it’s for real.
Penn State’s robust freshman class makes its debut Friday as the No. 13 Lady Lions open their basketball season against Saint Francis at 7 p.m. at the Bryce Jordan Center.
Six of the seven freshmen class members (point guard Lindsey Spann is out with a knee injury) could see action tonight against the Red Flash. They’ve been burning up Twitter about how much they’re looking forward to a weekend that also features a home game with Fordham on Sunday afternoon.
“Gosh, they are excited about it,” Lady Lions coach Coquese Washington said. “I think all of their parents are coming. They are out of tickets. … It will be a fun weekend for them.”
Although they got their feet wet in a 102-51 exhibition romp against Lock Haven on Oct. 27, this trip to the Jordan Center has a decidedly different feel.
“I’m very excited,” freshman forward Jenny DeGraaf said. “ It’s exciting to get ready and to prepare for something instead of preparing to prepare. Now, we have an opponent to look forward to. There’s a lot of energy in the gym. We’re all looking forward to getting out there and playing together as a team and seeing how things go. “
“I’m very excited to get to play Friday and Sunday,” freshman forward Alex Harris added. “We come out of every practice better and ready to go.”
Even veterans are looking to get the season started, although maybe for a little different reason.
“I am jacked,” said junior forward Tori Waldner, who will make her first career start. “I am so amped up for Friday just so we don’t have to play our practice players. Our practice players are so tough on us.”
Instead of the Red Dragon practice players, which included former Lady Lion and WNBA standout Alex Bentley this week, the Lady Lions get the Red Flash.
The last time the two schools met made history --- bad for Penn State and good for St. Francis. The Red Flash stunned the Lady Lions 74-69 in Loretto in 2006, their first win over a Big Ten team and arguably the biggest win in program history.
None of the current Lady Lions were around for that game, but they aren’t looking past the Red Flash.
Led by former Bishop Guilfoyle standout Alli Williams, the Red flash were 17-16 last season and are picked fourth in the Northeast Conference this season.
“They’re a good team and versatile as well,” Waldner said.
“It will be exciting to see what they bring against us. They’re posts can shoot. Their guards can shoot. They can drive, pass and kick. They’re very quick, too. It’s going to interesting to see what we can really do against St. Francis.”
Like Penn State, Joe Haigh's club is looking to run, run, and run some more. Haigh wants his team getting up shots early and often.
Williams scored 29 points and grabbed 15 rebounds in a 101-75 preseason win over Pitt-Johnstown.
“The biggest thing is transition defense,” Washington said. “ You’ve got to make that conversion from offense to defense really quickly.”
Penn State wants to get up and down the floor quickly, too. The Lady Lions have blazing point guard Dara Taylor, who will be looking to get the ball to reigning Big Ten Player of the Year Maggie Lucas, one of the best 3-point shooters in school and NCAA history.
Swing player Ariel Edwards could pose problems for the Red Flash and the Lady Lions start 6-foot-6 Candice Agee and 6-foot-5 Waldner, who will tower above the much smaller Red Flash, who have just one player taller than six feet.
The freshmen — guard/forward Kaliyah Mitchell, guard/forward Peyton Whitted, guard Keke Sevillian, center Infiniti Alston, DeGraaf and Harris — will be looking to make impacts.
Mitchell had nine points and 10 rebounds in the exhibition win, Whitted had 11 points and Harris notched seven rebounds.
“I think the development of our freshmen has pleasantly surprised me,” Washington said. “They have adjusted very well. You could see that in the exhibition game.”
“It’s been tough and easy at the same time,” DeGraaf said of the transition. “We have great leadership, so that’s made it easy. It’s easy to come out here and play for great group of upper classmen and veterans who want it just as bad as we do. We’re fresh young energy and they’ve used that to their advantage.
“It’s been tough because it’s a quicker game, but it’s fun that way. We all knew it was going to happen.”
The contest continues a trend of Washington getting state schools on the schedule. Penn State also faces Bucknell this season.
“I think it’s fun for our fans and also just to build competition within the state,” Washington said. “… We just want to make sure our presence felt throughout the state, but also with the schools within the state that we can be some great competition and create some great games and great memories for our fans within the state.”