The lights come on for real for the Penn State women’s basketball team this afternoon and Coquese Washington will be just as interested as the Lady Lion fans how her young team will perform.
Washington will start a senior, three sophomores and a redshirt freshman against Towson in a noon clash in the season-opening Preseason WNIT.
None of those players — only Tori Waldner returns from last year’s starting lineup — have averaged more than five points in their collegiate careers. That goes for the rest of the team, too.
And while Washington has seen progress in practice, she wants to see the same thing on the Bryce Jordan Center floor.
“We’ve had a ton of practices but part of developing your role comes with playing in front of a crowd and when the stakes are high,” said Washington, who has led the Lady Lions to three consecutive Big Ten regular-season titles. “As we start the season, we’ll continue to develop a team identity and we’ll continue to see the players getting comfortable with the roles they have this year.
“We’re starting a freshman and three sophomores,” she added. “They’ve got to develop an oncourt, in-game camaraderie. That’s the biggest unknown.”
Players say they expect the work done at practice to manifest itself on gameday.
“You play how you practice,” said guard Sierra Moore, the Duke transfer who will make her first start for the Lady Lions. “It is true. You have to come in a practice hard every single day. It shows when you get out on the court.”
“Stuff has come from coaches and players alike that you’re not a good practice player that you’re not a good game player,” added Waldner, whose 4.8 scoring and 5.6 rebounding averages lead the returnees. “But, Co really wants to see that carryover. If you’re really going to play hard in practice that is going to transfer into games.”
Freshman guard Lindsey Spann, who missed last season with a knee injury, says she expects to play well in the spotlight.
‘The lights really don’t faze me too much,” Spann said. “I’m pretty confident and composed. I get hyped in practice for the same things that I get hyped for in the games. I try to stay level-headed, regardless.”
While they’re confident, the Lady Lions know they have to improve from their unofficial debut at the Jordan Center. Penn State struggled in a 75-71 exhibition victory over Division II Indiana, Pa.
The Lady Lions gave up numerous open 3-pointers to the Crimson Hawks, who drilled 14 of 32 attempts.
Players say the tight game with IUP was better for them than the usual preseason blowout.
“We took a lot from that game,” sophomore forward Peyton Whitted said. “It was a good learning experience.”
“The win was good, but the experience was an eye-opener,” added Waldner. “Wow, we need to get a lot better and keep moving forward and winning. We’ve improved a lot.”
Washington said the team has moved in a positive direction.
“I’ve seen some good progress, particularly defensively,” Washington said. “It looks like we’re starting to build a little bit better chemistry and communication on the defensive end which is helping them to execute better. It will be interesting to see what it looks like Friday when we get back at it.”
The Lady Lions will face a Towson squad that went 13-17 last season, but returns three experienced players in the frontcourt. Senior LaTorri Hines-Allen averaged 14.1 points and 8.4 rebounds last season.
“They’re an athletic team, especially in the post,” Washington said. “They’re a little undersized, but they do a good job of driving and putting the ball on the floor, especially Hines-Allen.”
Players say they can’t wait to test the Tigers and whoever is next in the WNIT.
“It doesn’t matter who we play,” Moore said. “We’re just ready to play.”
One for two
Candice Agee and Alex Harris warmed up but did not play in the preseason contest against IUP.
Washington said Agee will be available for Friday’s game, while Harris will not.
Now it’s official
As expected, Penn State finished off its 2015 early signing class with the addition of Ashanti Thomas, a 6-foot-5 post player from Lafayette High School in Lexington, Ky. Thomas joins guards Teniya Page (Marion Heights, Ill.), Amari Carter (Washington, D.C.) and post player Jaylen Williams (Braintree, Mass.) in a class that’s ranked anywhere between No.8 and No. 11 nationally by several recruiting services.
“Ashanti is a post player with tremendous athleticism,” Washington said in a university release. “She will be a dominating presence in the paint for us. ... She will certainly be able to handle the rigors of Big Ten post play.”