On Saturday, Penn State’s seniors combined for 63 points in a 77-62 victory over Michigan that clinched a share of the Big Ten title.
On Monday, Maggie Lucas, Dara Taylor, Ariel Edwards and Talia East were honored by the conference.
As they prepared for Friday’s Big Ten Tournament opener, the seniors got their first chance to talk about their accolades.
Lucas earned the Big Ten Player of the Year for the second consecutive season and first team honors. Taylor was named the league’s Defensive Player of the Year and made the second team. Edwards joined Lucas on the first team and won a sportsman ship award. East was named honorable. Each of them set career highs in scoring for the No. 11 Lady Lions (22-6), who face either Ohio State or Northwestern in the opening round of the Big Tens in Indianapolis on Friday.
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At Tuesday’s weekly news conference, those seniors talked about how happy they were that each received an honor.
“It was awesome,” said Lucas. “It was all just well-deserved. We’ve all worked really, really hard and come together this last year really well. I’m really just proud of everybody.”
“To be on a team with all of these people who are complimenting each other so well is awesome,” said East, who averaged 7.6 points and led the Lady Lions in rebounding (7.5 average) and blocked shots (40). ... I’m so excited to be a part of it. It speaks a lot to the work we put in it. It speaks a lot to the coaches’ preparation to getting us there and it speaks a lot to the the people who were on the team the past few years and having great examples to follow.”
“I think its great. I’m so proud of the other seniors,” added Edwards, whose 14.9 average was up seven points from last season. “I feel like we’ve come a long way. I do feel like we’ve worked hard. The seniors have had to pick up a lot because of how much left from the year before. I’m proud of our team in general and proud of the seniors for picking up some of the workload that we lost.”
Lucas joined some rare company as she earned the Big Ten Player of the Year on the media ballot. She is is one of just seven players to earn the honor multiple times, joining Kelly Mazzante as the only Lady Lions with that distinction.
“It’s a great honor,” said Lucas, who was second in the league with a 21.5 scoring average. “It’s really humbling as usual.”
Taylor, an all-defensive team selection last season, became the first Lady Lion since two-time winner Tanisha Wright to land the top award.
“It’s a huge honor,” said Taylor. “ I attribute it to my team. They helped me to be in good spots. Our posts are inside blocking shots so it helps me to get up and pressure to get some steals.”
The transfer from Maryland was the only unanimous selection to the defensive team which was chosen by the coaches.
“It’s great to have the respect of the other coaches,” Taylor said. “With only my second year in the league, to gain that respect is really cool.”
“I’m really happy for her,” Lady Lion coach Coquese Washington said. “Probably of all of the starters, she gets the least amount of rest. She probably works the hardest in picking up fullcourt and harassing the other teams’ primary ballhandlers. For her to be rewarded in that way, I’m really pleased for her.”
Lucas said all of the postseason bling is nice, but there’s only one piece of hardware the Lady Lions want in their immediate future.
“Right now our focus is winning the Big Ten Tournament and winning more games,” she said.
Another one for the coach
Washington picked up her third consecutive Coach of the Year honor, joining former Ohio State leader Jim Foster as the only coach to win three straight.
“To be Coach of the Year three times is awesome,” East said.
Washington, who is 97-28 over the past four seasons, downplayed the honor to her team.
“She never wants to take any of the credit,” Edwards said. “That just shows you how awesome she is. We were really excited for her and she was like, ‘Alright, alright, on to the next thing.’ She’s taught me a lot and I’m sure the rest of my teammates would say the same thing.”
Lucas was in severe pain Saturday after turning her left ankle at the end of the first half. She was slowed by it in the second half against the Wolverines.
On Tuesday, she declared herself healthy.
“It’s good,” she said of her ankle. “I’ve been taking care of it. These couple of days I had a chance to get a little bit of rehab to get the swelling out. I feel fine. I’m going to be 100 percent for the tournament.”
Follow Walt Moody on Twitter @wmoodycdt