You are the owner of this article.
You have permission to edit this article.

Penn State women’s basketball returns promising options in the backcourt

  • Comments
Penn State Women's Basketball vs Indiana, Jekot (25)

Guard Kelly Jekot (25) tries to dribble past Indiana’s defense during Penn State women’s basketball’s game against Indiana on Thursday, Jan. 7, 2021 at the Bryce Jordan Center in University Park, Pa. The Hoosiers beat the Lady Lions 85-64.

When its season kicks off this November, Penn State will have plenty of returning experience to boast in its backcourt that may prove essential to success in the 2021-22 season.

The guard position sets the tone of every offensive possession, as players in the role have touches on the ball with every trip down the court.

The Lady Lions finished last season 9-15, however, they weren’t as bad as their record might suggest, given the strength of the Big Ten.

The Massey Ratings, which adjusts for schedule, had the Nittany Lions as a top-70 team with an offense that was top-40 in the country.

Making the picture more complicated, Penn State lost its leading scorer, sixth-year senior Kelly Jekot, nine games into last season.

This winter, Penn State will return all but one backcourt player, Nyam Thornton, who made two starts last season.

In the backcourt, Penn State will return Jekot, along with fifth-year senior Niya Beverley, junior Makenna Marisa, sophomore Maddie Burke, junior Shay Hagans and sophomore Tova Sabel.

Together, those six combined to average almost 60 points a night.

It remains to be seen whether Jekot will start the year at full strength, as recovery time from an ACL injury varies from athlete to athlete.

However, there will be almost a full year in between the time of her initial tear and when conference play tips-off, which works heavily in her favor.

Jekot, who transferred from Villanova after her junior year, is an all-around player. Entering her sixth season, the veteran can handle the ball, score from all over the floor and fight for her share of rebounds.

Her absence certainly was felt down the stretch last year, and getting her back will improve every area of the offense in the 2021-22 season.

Like Jekot, Bevereley also transferred after her junior season. The Maryland native was a three-year starter at Wisconsin, who saw significant minutes from the moment she stepped on campus.

She was granted immediate eligibility to play with Penn State last year, made 14 starts and averaged almost 10 points a game.

Penn State Women's Basketball vs Rutgers (15)

Guard Maddie Burke (15) protects the ball from Rutgers during the Penn State women’s basketball game against Rutgers on Sunday, Feb. 28, 2021 at the Bryce Jordan Center in University Park, Pa. The Lady Lions lost to the Scarlet Knight 60-55.

Penn State struggled in the assist-to-turnover category last year, finishing No. 11 in the conference. Beverley, on the other hand, finished first in the conference in assists-to-turnover ratio.

Getting the ball in Beverley’s hands more this season should help the Nittany Lions be more efficient with its possessions.

Jekot and Beverley will be joined by Marisa, the only player on the team last year to make at least 20 starts while scoring over 10 points a game.

In her sophomore season, the then-sophomore was an All-Big Ten honorable mention and along with her scoring, was fifth in the conference in assists per game.

On the defensive end, Marisa added 25 steals in 24 starts last season. She could stand to improve from deep, as she only shot 30% from behind the arc.

Marisa started more games than any other guard last year, with Hagans coming in second with 19 starting appearances. Hagans led the team with 38 steals while averaging seven points and 3.2 rebounds per game.

It was a strong improvement on her freshman campaign where she saw time in all 30 games, averaging 5.2 points a night.

Hagans has an opportunity to become a real impact player as she makes the jump to upperclassman.

The remaining player in the backcourt who made a significant number of starts for head coach Carolyn Kieger’s last season is Burke. In her freshman season, Burke was the Big Ten’s Sixth Player of the Year.

The best part of Burke’s game is her ability to shoot the 3-ball. She sank 58 shots from deep last year, fifth among Division I freshmen.

Already making a significant impact in her first year, Penn State will look for Burke to continue making big shots as she kicks off her sophomore campaign in November.

That leaves Sabel, who made just one start as a freshman last year, but still averaged 14.7 minutes a night along with five points.

If Sabel is able to improve on her freshman year, she can be a solid depth piece for the Lady Lions in 2021.


If you're interested in submitting a Letter to the Editor, click here.

Latest Daily Collegian


Support Student Journalism

Your contribution will help the Collegian provide award winning journalism to the Penn State community and beyond.

Donate to the Collegian by clicking the button below.