Lady Lions Look to Build off Success

Maggie Lucas

Penn State is hoping Sweet 16 appearance and strong summer showing lead to big things during the 2012-13 campaign..

The Penn State women's basketball team learned a lot from Euro Trip. But no, we aren't talking about the movie.

No, we mean a 10-day excursion head coach Coquese Washington and her team took abroad in August, taking on and beating three opponents along the way. It provided a snapshot into what could be of a Lady Lions' team ranked eighth in the Lindy's preseason poll and 10th by Athlon. This team will be fast and the players will build off each other.

“The trip to Europe was a great opportunity for the team, and as coaches, it gave us an opportunity to experiment with some things,” assistant coach Kia Damon said. Washington missed Monday's Media Day session due to an unspecified family emergency, so Damon filled in for her.

“It gave us a sneak preview about what we need to tweak, and it was a great experience for the kids,” Damon added. “It was tremendous.”

Four starters return from last season's Sweet 16 team, including top scorers Maggie Lucas, Alex Bentley and Nikki Greene. The trio combined to average 42 of the Lady Lions' 75 points per game.

“It's my junior year, and I'm a lot more comfortable with the system, because every year you get more comfortable with the system,” the junior guard Lucas said. “It's an exciting time of year. I continued in the offseason to add more combo moves, and I continue to bring more than the three ball. I really worked on my ball control to try and be a more complete player.”

A pair of additions will spark the Lady Lions' in more ways than one this season. Redshirt junior Dara Taylor transferred into the program last year from Maryland, and after sitting out a season due to NCAA rules, will combine with the senior guard Bentley to form a dynamic backcourt for Washington's club.

“My speed is a big part of my game,” Taylor said. “I like to play fast, and that helps with some more pace offensively and defensively. I think it's really cool to play with Alex. We're a tough duo to go against.”

The other added presence will be huge, literally. True freshman Candie Agee spent the summer training with USA Basketball, and at 6-foot-6 will provide an immediate presence for the Lady Lions.

“Candice arrived from California, and she had a great opportunity to work with USA Basketball over the summer, and that has sort of been a springboard for her,” Damon said. “It helped her to adapt to our terminology and style, and she does a great job and is a gifted scorer. You don't come across many kids who have a knack to put the ball in the basket like she does.”

Penn State will open their season with Howard Nov. 11, but the nonconference slate only gets tougher from there. Trips to Texas A&M, Connecticut and Miami (Fla.) headline the schedule before the Lady Lions open Big Ten play against Northwestern Jan. 3.

“I'm so excited,” Bentley said. “When coach was recruiting us, she said when you guys handle all the hard work, she's going to set up some competitive games. We love it, and we want to go out there and be challenged.”

Damon talked about it from the staff's point of view.

“We wanted to challenge the team and put them in some NCAA Tournament-like atmospheres early on, and obviously going into Storrs (Conn.) will provide that,” Damon said.

A new season is upon Penn State, but the expectations, while high, remain the same. The Lady Lions will be the hunted again this season in the Big Ten, with a target placed firmly on their back from the opening whistle.

“We can do anything we put our minds too, and I feel like we're going to shock people with our defensive presence,” the senior forward Greene said.

“It's no different,” Lucas added. “We have our own expectations, and we don't let anyone else set what our expectations are going to be. I think we were the hunted a little bit more last year, so I think this team has experience with that, and we just try to go in and play our style of basketball and set the pace.”

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