Penn State women’s basketball preview: Fresh faces to start for inexperienced Lady Lions
Last season, the Penn State women captured their third consecutive Big Ten title and advanced to the Sweet Sixteen for the second time in three seasons.
This year, they weren’t picked to finish in the top three in the conference, but that’s what happens when one of the most successful classes in program history graduates from a team that went 24-8.
Gone are two-time defending Big Ten player of the year Maggie Lucas, 2014 Big Ten defensive player of the year Dara Taylor, All-Big Ten first team member Ariel Edwards and All-Big Ten honorable mention recipient Talia East. Gone with them are 46 percent of Penn State’s rebounding and 75 percent of its scoring from last season.
The Lady Lions return only one starter, lone senior Tori Waldner, and two other players who appeared in all 32 games last season.
Despite the losses, coach Coquese Washington told reporters at media day that the team is different, but the expectations are not.
“We’re going to get better every day, every week, every month of the season,” she said. “We want to play our best basketball by the end of the season. Our expectations are to win.”
Waldner, a center/forward who started all 32 games last season, was the team’s fifth-leading scorer, averaging 4.8 points per game. and third-leading rebounder with 5.6 per game. Junior center Candice Agee, who played in all 32 games, made three starts and averaged 2.6 points and 2.1 rebounds last season, will come off the bench.
Only sophomore forward/guard Kaliyah Mitchell, who averaged 4.5 points and 4.4 rebounds last season, also played in every game. Forward Peyton Whitted, who will start, averaged 2.9 points in 31 games.
Notable new faces in the starting lineup include Sierra Moore, a redshirt sophomore guard who sat out last year after transferring from Duke, and redshirt freshman Lindsay Spann, who missed all of last season with a knee injury.
Without Lucas, who averaged 21 points per game and could turn a game around single-handedly, the Lady Lions will have to be a more balanced team offensively and will have less room for error.
“We know there’s no one we can fall back on, no Maggie or no Ariel who can sub back in and fix things if something goes wrong,” Waldner said. “We have to take control of what we’re doing, be in tune and be focused. That’s what (Washington) wants to make sure we get, and that’s what the younger girls are adapting to.”
Penn State opens with the Preseason WNIT Tournament, which includes five teams that made the NCAA Tournament and four that appeared in the WNIT. The Lady Lions also have the Georgia State Tournament, followed by the Big Ten/ACC Challenge against Syracuse. In conference play, Penn State will face Minnesota, Wisconsin, Ohio State and newcomers Rutgers and Maryland twice. Maryland was picked in the preseason poll to win the conference.
“It’s a lot of diversity and a lot of different styles of play now in the Big Ten, but we’re going to be ready,” Agee said.