It was not pretty when they got here.
To two Penn State women’s basketball players, all they had were the words of one head coach. When Coquese Washington recruited the high school prospects, all she had was a vision and a plan, hopeful that one day it would pan out.
And it has.
For the last three seasons, Washington has taken her Lady Lions to the NCAA Tournament and this will be the last time that seniors Alex Bentley and Nikki Greene play at the collegiate level.
There’s no guarantee of another game besides the Lions’ contest against No. 14 Cal Poly at 5:15 p.m. on Sunday in Baton Rouge, La. How far the No. 3 seed Lady Lions in the Spokane Region all rests on them and their teammates, which includes fellow seniors Mia Nickson, Gizelle Studevent and Marisa Wolfe.
One loss will end the collegiate careers of five seniors, but thinking about the transition that they have gone through from when they first got to Penn State until now, all Washington can do is smile and express her thanks.
“I’m really happy for our seniors,” Washington said. “From where we were when they came in as freshmen and where the program was to where it is now, it’s them and I take my hats off to them.”
The 2008-2009 season — the one before Bentley and Greene’s freshman year — the Lions posted a record (11-18, 6-12 Big Ten) that would most likely erase Washington’s smile. Despite knowing that they were coming into a program that had seen its better years, the duo still believed it could help make a difference here.
When they got here in 2009, they were just thrown into the mix and left to defend themselves. The duo often had to learn from its mistakes, as the Lions roster at that time did not allow Washington the leverage of allowing the two to watch and learn from the bench.
There were tough times for both Greene and Bentley, often frustrating moments where the two felt lost. But looking back on it now, the veterans appreciate what Washington did for them by just letting them play.
“Obviously, coach ‘Quese just threw me out there and she trusted in me,” Bentley said. “I guess you could say that I was thrown to the wolves a little bit, but it all comes with learning…Without playing my freshman year, I wouldn’t have the experience under my belt that I have now, so I appreciate her trusting me and throwing me out there my freshman year.”
Since the two have stepped foot onto campus, the Lions have not had a losing record. They have helped notch a career record of 93-36 over their four years here.
Maybe a number even more impressive is the number of starts that the two have had. Of the 129 games that they have played while wearing the blue and white, Greene has started in every one, while Bentley has only missed two starts.
In that time, the tandem has made the most of its opportunities on the court. Both players have scored more than 1,000 career points and have done in it different ways, too.
“I think they both have had great careers and [Greene] probably [had] a much quieter 1,000 points than Alex’s 1,000 points, but that’s very as much of a mirror of their personalities as it is of their game,” assistant coach Maren Walseth said.
Bentley now ranks in the top 10 in program history in scoring, while Greene had accomplished something else that no one is school history has done — achieve 1,000 points, 900 rebounds, and 200 blocks in a career.
“As I’ve said, she’s had a very quietly impressive career, a very quietly impactful career,” Washington said of Greene’s accomplishments. “I’m just thrilled that she’s been able to come here and have that kind of impact on our program.”
After helping their team win back-to-back Big Ten regular season titles, there is only one more thing that Greene and Bentley want to achieve — a national title. After reaching the Sweet 16 last season, the Lions know what it will take to make another deep tournament.
It is not going to be an easy road to the Final Four in New Orleans with possible matchups against two Pac-12 powerhouses, Stanford and California — the top two seeds in the Spokane Region. But then again, things were not easy from the start for Bentley and Greene, so why would they expect anything differently now?
They will have one last shot at finishing off their illustrious careers in the NCAA tourney and once again leave their mark on the program that they helped build from the bottom up, alongside their fellow seniors.
“We appreciate [Washington] as a person because she pushed us to become even better each practice and she made us even wiser in the decisions that we make on the court,” Greene said. “It speaks a lot about our class, especially because we love challenges and we love to compete and she definitely has showed us what competing is.”