Tori Waldner could have just four games left in her college basketball career — three regular season and one in the Big Ten Tournament.
But maybe the Penn State senior isn’t ready to leave the sport when the Lady Lions’ season is complete.
Waldner, who leads the Lady Lions (6-20 overall, 3-12 Big Ten) on the road against No. 5 Maryland (24-2, 15-0) at 7 p.m. on Monday, is one of 58 players to have been selected to participate in the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association’s “So You Want to Be A Coach Program.” Waldner will attend a three-day workshop in April where the focus will be recruiting, the administrative side to coaching, how to get hired, skill development, the importance of knowing the rules and how to balance work and life.
“I think coaching is definitely an option,” said Waldner, a kinesiology major. “I’m really setting myself up for any options. Helping younger girls, whether it’s coaching at the collegiate or a lower level, ... going to this “So You Want to be a Coach” conference is definitely going to show me what level that might be at. I think even a (graduate assistant) spot would be amazing. I’m really open to any opportunities.”
Lady Lion coach Coquese Washington believes Waldner would be an excellent addition to the ranks.
“Tori has a really bright mind and has a very good basketball IQ,” said Washington of Waldner, who was part of three Big Ten regular-season title teams prior to this season. “She’s one of the people that knows everything that’s going on on the court and what everybody is supposed to do and where everybody is supposed to be.
“I think when you have that kind of intellect and intelligence about the game that bodes well for a career in coaching. Tori is such a people person and a leader and a natural teacher. She likes teaching and being a part of the information flow and helping people understand things. Having that teaching spirit will help her a long way in her coaching career.”
Waldner said with her degree — the study of the human movement — that she hopes to be involved in sports, whether it be coaching or not.
She does like a number of facets that leading a basketball program offers.
“I definitely like the strategy,” she said. “I also like watching people develop, the progression not just as players but as people.”
The Georgia native definitely has done the latter in her four years at Penn State. She has become a leader on campus, serving as the president of the Student-Athlete Advisory Board (SAAB) and is part of the university’s “It’s On Us” campaign to stop sexual abuse.
Her work ethic has impressed her teammates.
“It’s not only on the court, but a big impact off the court,” guard Sierra Moore said. “She’s involved in so many things. Off the court, she’s showing how much academics mean to us and that we have a life after basketball.”
Waldner has weathered the challenge of leading a team that is going through the worst season in program history. She’s remained a steadying influence despite many lows this season.
“I think it’s tough on her but Tori has shown a tremendous amount of focus and poise,” Washington said. “She’s been a good leader. She hasn’t let the ups and downs of the season weigh on her. She’s continued to be a strong example of trying to get better. ... As her season and career wind down, she’s been incredibly coachable and positive and fighting to finish the season on as high a note as we can.”
Waldner said she’s remained realistic this season in the wake of watching four starters graduate from a Sweet 16 team a year ago.
“Honestly, we weren’t going to better extremely fast,” Waldner said. “Our hopes were to do really well. As you can see now, we have to see the slow progression of getting better.”
Waldner is coming off the best scoring game of her career. The 6-foot-5 forward netted 16 points and grabbed eight rebounds in an 85-77 loss against Minnesota (22-6, 11-5).
Penn State will need more of those numbers to contend against the Terrapins, who thanks to Ohio State’s 100-82 upset of Iowa on Saturday, clinched the Big Ten title without having to play a game over the weekend.
The former ACC power, a Final Four team last year, has rolled through the Big Ten.
The Terps knocked off the Lady Lions on Feb. 5, netting a 77-62 triumph in a contest they led by 25 points in the second half.
“I don’t think we were ourselves against Maryland when we played them here,” Moore said. “We got off to a slow start.”
Shatori Walker-Kimbrough had 21 points (on 10 for 14 shooting) to lead Maryland in that contest. The Terps scored 22 points off of 17 Penn State turnovers.
“I do think that we did a lot of good things that game,” Washington said. “One of the areas that we struggled in is that we turned the ball over. Even though the number isn’t astronomical, they capitalized on those turnovers and scored a ton of points in transition.”
It could be one of a handful of games Waldner, who is averaging 5.1 points and 5.8 rebounds, has left.
“I’m just focusing on Maryland,” the senior said. “I’ve played a lot of basketball, but it’s not going to get to me until probably the season is over.”
And once that is done, coaching could be in her future.
“I think she will be a good coach,” said Moore, who offered a piece of advice. “She might need to get a little bit tougher. I think that comes with age when she sees how tough it is to coach girls.”
“If she actually goes into it, I think she has a tremendous coaching career ahead of her,” added Washington.
Notes: Penn State is 14-9 all-time against Maryland, including 6-5 in College Park. ... PSU forward Peyton Whitted will square off against former high school teammate Lexie Brown again. The two played at North Gwinnet High School in Suwanee, Ga. ... The Terps are averaging almost 82 points per game, 18 more than Penn State.