The tears had stopped, but the redness and glassiness around the eyes remained.
Yet despite the fact that their careers at Penn State had come to an end, there was a sense of pride that enveloped seniors Maggie Lucas, Ariel Edwards, Dara Taylor and Talia East following Sunday’s 82-57 loss to Stanford in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament.
The group had accomplished much in four seasons.
That senior group won 101 of 132 games and made it to the Sweet 16 three times. They brought home three consecutive Big Ten regular-season titles. Lucas won the Big Ten Player of the Year twice and Taylor was named Defensive Player of the Year this season. Edwards was a first team all-conference pick and East earned honorable mention honors this season.
“It’s really tough,” Lucas said of the last game together with her teammates. “We’ve been through a lot, but we’ve got a lot to be proud of, too. I think we accomplished a lot that a lot of people didn’t think we could. I’m proud of that and we’ll hang our hats on that.”
Taylor said the afternoon was rough on and off the court.
“It’s extremely tough,” the two-year transfer from Maryland said. “You don’t really think about it beforehand. You think, ‘Let’s go out and win another game.’ You walk off the court and then it all hits you.”
Edwards, who had a game-high 22 points, said she’ll leave with good memories, especially ones of her final season, her first as a starter.
“I’ve had a good four years here,” she said. “I feel like this year was especially special because of the pieces that we had and how young we were and how nobody expected us to be good. I’m proud of my teammates. They’ve worked hard the whole year. Even though it’s disappointing, we did accomplish a lot.”
East pointed back to when this group committed to play for Coach Coquese Washington. The Lady Lions had been through four consecutive losing seasons, two under Washington.
“I’m so thoroughly proud of the seniors,” East said. “We’ve come a long way. We came here when we weren’t ranked. We weren’t .500. Nobody thought this program would see the light of day. The seniors this year and especially the seniors last year did a great job of bringing Penn State back into the light.
“To have a third Big Ten title when nobody thought we could do it, to see Maggie score higher this year than she has any other year with people knowing who she is and spying on her and us having an ‘X’ on our back, I think we did a good job.”
Even though the score was lopsided Sunday, the players felt they had left everything out on the floor.
“I feel like everybody tried very hard,” Edwards said. “We didn’t play our best and we didn’t execute as well as we wanted, but I know that everybody tried as hard as we could.”
East, a first-year starter, looks at the season as a success.
“Our goal was to go farther in the NCAA Tournament, but nobody thought we’d make it to the Sweet 16 so I’m proud for that,” she said. “We’re definitely a close-knit group and we’re going to continue to be one.”
No road fan
Penn State coach Coquese Washington won two games at the Bryce Jordan Center in the NCAA Tournament, but she’s no fan of regional home games.
The NCAA is going back to neutral sites in the regionals next season.
When asked about playing on someone else’s home floor in the regionals, Washington was blunt.
“I’m not in favor of it,” she said. “I think it’s an extremely difficult task to ask and I’m glad the NCAA has gone back to neutral sites in the regional next year and moving forward. I think that’s important for our game. “
Stanford improved to 29-4 in NCAA games at Maples Pavilion.
“That’s the task we had at hand today,” Washington said. “On one hand, it’s a good experience for our kids to come out and play at Maples Pavilion and play on this campus have this kind of game, but in terms of competitive equity of the NCAA Tournament I’m glad we’re going back to neutral sites for the regionals.”
Bay Area Nittany Lion
Former Penn State standout and Oakland Raider quarterback Matt McGloin attended the game to root on the Lady Lions.
The former Nittany Lion walk-on became a rookie starter for the Raiders last season. He completed 118 or 211 passes for 1,547 yards and 8 touchdowns for Oakland.
Former National Security Advisor and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice also attended the contest. Rice currently is a professor at Stanford.
By the numbers
In seven of Penn State’s eight losses, the Lady Lions gave up 40 or more points in the first half. ... Penn State dropped to 32-25 all-time in the NCAA Tournament and 4-9 in the Sweet 16. Stanford improved to 84-25 in NCAA play. The Cardinal reached the Elite Eight for the fifth time in the last six seasons. Penn State dropped to 0-6 against No. 2 seeds. Stanford now has a 2-1 series lead against Penn State. Maggie Lucas finished her career at Penn State with 2,510 points, good for 53rd on the all-time NCAA list. Lucas finished the season 94.9 percent from the foul line, sixth best ever in the NCAA. She was seventh-best in the NCAA in her career with a 90.7 percentage from the line. Lucas was 11th in NCAA history with 365 career 3-pointers. Stanford improved to 62-7 against lower seeded teams in the NCAAs. Chiney Ogwumike tied her NCAA Tournament career high with 29 points. Stanford is 9-1 against ranked teams this season, while Penn State fell to 4-4.