They went all in with an off-suited deuce-seven.
Four years after making one of the important decisions of their lives –– where to play collegiate basketball –– the Lady Lion seniors are being rewarded for all of their hard work that they contributed to the program and the faith they had in head coach Coquese Washington.
Of the five seniors on the No. 8 Lions, four of them are entering their fourth season in the program that they helped to rebuild and fellow redshirt senior forward Mia Nickson will be heading into her third season as a Lady Lion. Nickson was forced to sit out during the 2009-2010 season due to NCAA transfer rules, when she decided to transfer from Boston College.
No matter how one looks at it, the five seniors have made a splash since first stepping foot onto campus and are now reaping the benefits.
As Washington was rummaging through some things at home, she came across a reflection of the past. The sixth-year coach discovered an article written about her thoughts on the now senior class and it turns out that her assumptions were spot on.
“It was just so funny for me to read my thoughts on that class back then and some of the things that I said at that time,” Washington said. “I thought that they would be a big impact, that they would be able to come in and elevate our program, have an impact from day one and that certainly has been the case.”
The senior class has helped to re-develop the program from the 11-18, 6-12 Big Ten record that it had when they were getting ready to graduate from high school in 2008-2009. One year later, in their freshman campaign, they helped Washington to her first winning season as a coach when the squad posted a 17-14, 8-10 Big Ten record, and the team has improved every season since.
Guards Alex Bentley and Gizelle Studevent, along with post players Nikki Greene, Marisa Wolfe, and Nickson have been helping the Lady Lion program grow each season and recently enjoyed their best season, when they led the Lions to the Sweet 16 for the first time since the 2003-2004 season.
“This senior class has been kind of the lightning rod for our success and I’m so appreciative of this class,” Washington said. “They all had opportunities to go to other programs that were certainly at a better place than when they decided to come to Penn State.”
Coming from all areas of the country, the seniors had other offers to go play for powerhouse schools that were well-known programs and nationally ranked, but instead they instilled faith in Washington and decided to suit up in the blue and white.
Whether it was traveling from Indianapolis, Ind., Diboll, Texas, La Jolla, Calif., or Ford City, Pa., they all decided to gamble on Happy Valley.
“They took a chance on Penn State and they took a chance on a first-year head coach,” Washington said. “For them to have the careers [and] experiences that they’ve had with this program, going to the NCAA Tournament and playing in the Sweet 16 and coming into the season ranked in the top 10 in the nation and all that, it’s just a testament to the faith that they had in themselves and their work ethic. They’ve all gotten better, they’ve all grown and matured, they’re leaders.”
Along with that growth and maturity comes a calm and confident demeanor that Washington has noticed in her experienced players –– something that she has not seen from all of them before –– and it’s only the preseason. Playing together for years and winning the Big Ten regular season title last season are two things that could be attributed to that confidence.
“They don’t worry about anything, they don’t worry about making mistakes, they don’t worry about if I yell at them,” Washington said jokingly about the fact that they are seniors and are used to it by now. “They just have a calm and a confidence about getting things done and playing and practicing. I think it has a positive affect on the rest of the team.”
With just two days left until the Lions host a scrimmage against California (Pa.) and 10 days until they kick off the 2012-2013 season, one thing is certain.
Expectations are high as the season draws near and there’s no doubt that Washington would want nothing less than sending her seniors out on top.
Washington is going to cherish every day that she has remaining with her seniors and this team.
“I’m just really thrilled that they’re here, that they chose to come to Penn State,” Washington said. “Senior night will be tough for me, not for them. They’ll be fine, but it will be tough for me.”