Lindsey Spann is the only member of Penn State’s vaunted freshman class not to see action this season.
She’ll be on the bench as the No. 12 Lady Lions (16-4 overall, 7-1 Big Ten) try to keep their league lead with Sunday’s 2 p.m. clash at Northwestern (14-7, 4-4).
It’s not that Penn State coach Coquese Washington wouldn’t like to point down and put the highly-recruited point guard from Our Lady of Good Counsel in Baltimore on the floor.
Spann tore the anterior cruciate ligament in her right knee during an offseason workout in July and has spent the resulting months working to rehabilitate the injury.
She’s made remarkable progress since the injury.
As the season started, she was pedaling a stationary bike like she was training for the Tour de France. She’s worked her way into non-contact drills, showing some of the speed that helped her average 15.9 points, 5.3 assists and 2.8 steals during her senior season at Good Counsel.
She’s made remarkable progress with an injury that often sidelines players for a year.
“She’s handled it great,” Washington said of Spann. “She’s doing fantastic. She’s getting a little bit more active in practice every day. In another week or so, she’ll actually get to start practicing with us.”
“Everything is going pretty well,” Spann agreed. “I’m making progress. I should be getting more contact in throughout February so I’m moving along.”
While she’d like to be out on the floor, Spann is trying to see the silver lining as she waits to suit up in her No. 12 jersey.
“It’s been pretty hard, but it’s been a learning experience,” Spann said. “I can see things that I can take advantage of when I get back onto the court. Things like that help me get ready for next year.”
And make no mistake, next year she’ll be really needed. Dara Taylor, the starting point guard, will graduate. Maggie Lucas, who at times spells Taylor, also graduates. Keke Sevillian, the team’s only other ballhandler, has seen limited action.
Spann, who some prognosticators said was the most college ready of Penn State’s incoming class, could start next fall.
That’s why anything she can glean this season will be important.
“I pay close attention to the details and the concepts that we practice and the different options there are in our plays and offenses,” Spann said. “I’m just learning the ins and outs of Lady Lion basketball while I’m sitting on the bench my freshman year.”
At least, she has some company.
Sierra Moore, a highly-touted guard from Delone Catholic, is sitting out a season as mandated by the NCAA after transferring from Duke.
“I think the fact her and Sierra had to sit out this year together has helped both of them,” Washington said. “They’re not alone going through this. They’ve been a great support for each other.”
“Sierra is like my partner in crime,” Spann said. “We see things together. We know little things we can work on. It’s a big help.”
And while Spann and Moore can’t play, that doesn’t mean they aren’t fired up for each game.
“I don’t know if you ever watch them on the bench, but they’re definitely into the game and very vocal,” Washington said. “They bring some energy on that bench, for sure.”
Spann would love to be out there with her teammates, but remains content with her situation.
“I look at it as a blessing in disguise,” she said. “I think everything happens for a reason. I’m hoping to improve, get back to where I was before or even better. That’s what I look forward to — being able to play again fully.”
Spann’s teammates are coming off a huge win, avenging an earlier season loss by knocking off Purdue 75-72 on Thursday. The triumph kept the two-time defending league champs in first place as the Big Ten season reached its midpoint.
While happy with her team’s improvements, especially on defense, Washington is taking nothing for granted in the second half of the season.
“The thing is we just can’t get complacent,” she said. “The first half of conference play is over with. The second half will be just as tough, if not tougher. As the season winds down and people are playing for postseason seeding and positioning and the opportunity to get into the postseason, the competition gets thicker. We know we have a tough road ahead of us, but I like where we are. As long as we keep going and getting better, we’ll be in good shape.”
The Lady Lions have hammered Northwestern over the years, holding a 31-7 edge in the all-time series.
The improving team they’ll face Sunday that is in the thick of a tight conference race. The Wildcats have knocked off three ranked teams this season, including Purdue (71-68) and Nebraska (63-59).
Northwestern is led in scoring by freshman Nia Coffey (15.4), sophomore Maggie Lyons (13.0), freshman Christen Inman (12.8) and sophomore Lauren Douglas (11.8). The quartet has helped the Wildcats to an 11-2 record at Welsh-Ryan Arena.
“Nia Coffey is playing really good basketball, one of the best freshmen in our conference,” Washington said. “Lauren Douglas is playing really good basketball, just a sophomore. They’re getting great contributions from Maggie Lyons and Alex Cohen.
“Again, playing on their home floor and coming off a tough road game (at Purdue), we’ve got to be rested and ready to go because that can be a tough place to play.”