Tori Waldner was at a crossroads with her college basketball career at Penn State.
So instead of heading back home to Milton, Ga., for the summer, Waldner made the South gym at the Bryce Jordan Center her home.
The ensuing hard work over those months has resulted in the desired effect — a place in the Lady Lions’ starting lineup.
Waldner will make her second start of her career Sunday when No. 13 Penn State (1-0) hosts Fordham (1-0) at 2 p.m. at the Bryce Jordan Center.
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In her first two seasons, the 6-foot-5 Waldner had played limited minutes, backing Nikki Greene and Mia Nickson on the front line. Waldner’s role for Coquese Washington was to score an occasional basket, grab rebounds and play solid defense. She became especially effective as a shot blocker finishing second to Greene with 32 rejections last season.
Waldner was realistic about her chances to break into the starting lineup.
“I was behind Nikki and Mia and being a starter was unlikely with the amount of talent we had,” she said. “It was really about accepting my role and Co was really the one who helped me with that.”
With Greene and Nickson having graduated, an opportunity existed to break into the starting rotation.
So Waldner worked on her game. She worked out most of the summer with teammate Ariel Edwards, Penn State’s top reserve who would be making a jump to the starting lineup.
“I had workouts with weightlifting, running and staying in shape,” Waldner said. “I worked on my shot. I worked on post moves and getting just a lot of reps up.”
Washington was impressed with the results.
“She put in a lot of work over the summer,” Washington said. “She stayed here all summer. She was in the gym all of the time. Her shot got better and she worked on some things defensively. The work that she put in has caused her confidence to get higher.”
And it is confidence that has helped Waldner make the transition to the starting lineup.
“Confidence is what has eased her into it,” Washington said. “The more confident she’s been with herself, the more productive and consistent she’s been.”
Waldner says she definitely believes more in her game this winter.
“I think I’m a lot more confident because of the work I put in over the summer,” she said. “Just having a ball in my hands every day and having the use of the facilities … confidence comes from being able to do things over and over.”
Washington said confidence is usually the measure of how well players perform.
Some like Maggie Lucas and Alex Bentley walk onto campus oozing with it. For others, it takes time.
“If I knew what it was? It’s just different for everybody,” Washington said. “I think the biggest thing is it comes down to self-confidence, how strongly you believe in who you are and what you can do when you don’t play well, make mistakes or there’s adversity.
“Ultimately confidence … is so much of how you see yourself. When you’re talking about kids that come to college at 17 and 18 years old, their self perception and self awareness isn’t fully formed. It takes them a couple of years to develop that confidence in themselves and who they are, not as basketball players, but who they are as people and women. When you see that all start to come together, then you see the confidence, the ability to go out there and make mistakes and still believe in yourself. It just takes different people different times to develop that self awareness.”
Waldner seems pretty aware of how she fits into the picture for the Lady Lions. She knows she’s not about to become the focus of the Lady Lion offense, but knows that nailing a perimeter jumper or blocking a shot can make the difference.
She also knows her time in the starting lineup could be fleeting.
“Being a starter was a goal of mine and it still is because at any point if I don’t perform it could be taken away,” said Waldner, who had three points and three rebounds in a 117-77 season-opening win against St. Francis on Friday. “Just knowing the talent that we have on the team is enough to know that if I don’t perform that somebody else will.”
Waldner hopes that being in better shape will help keep her on the floor. She estimates she’s dropped 30 pounds from when she stepped on campus as a freshman.
“Oh my gosh, I’m loads quicker,” she said. “I’m very fortunate that our strength coach (Brad Pantall) pushed me to where I needed to be. Now I can run up and down the floor and move when I need to.”
Washington said Waldner is moving in the right direction.
“It’s not an easy challenge to go from coming off the bench and impacting the game that way and then to being a starter,” Washington said. “There’s different stresses and responsibilities. It takes a pretty level-headed person to make that adjustment.”
Waldner and her teammates will look for their 21st consecutive home win today against Fordham, which opened its season with an 80-66 triumph over San Francisco.
Guards Abigail Corning and Erin Rooney had 22 and 19 points, respectively, in the win.
Notes: Penn State is 1-0 all-time against Fordham, having won 94-41 in 1994. … Penn State’s Maggie Lucas has made a 3-pointer in a school-record 36 consecutive games. … Fordham has players from New Zealand, Slovenia and England on its roster. … The contest will be Penn State’s final tune-up before hosting top-ranked and defending national champion Connecticut on Nov. 17.