January 11, 2010

Lady Lions Quietly Turning the Corner

The Penn State Lady Lions won their 11th game of the season Sunday, tying the team's victory total for the entire 2008-09 season. It is also Penn State's best start since the 2003-04 season, when the Lady Lions reached the Elite Eight.

Of course, it hardly would be prudent at this stage in the season to call for this team to dig that far into the NCAA Tournament; the Lady Lions may not make it at all. But it's definitely not a fluke to see that 11-4 record on the stat sheet. This is a very young team, with a young, smart leader guiding them in third-year head coach Coquese Washington.

Like almost any other college sport, the turnaround period for a new coach is usually one recruiting cycle--four seasons--and "Coach 'Quese" already has her squad ahead of the curve. From last season to this one, her team has shown an incredible improvement on the court. But there's no denying, or ignoring, where this program has made the biggest change: attitude.

We all know why former head coach Rene Portland was forced to resign, so there's no reason to revisit that. But the program that Washington inherited was full of turbulence. The talent that once made Penn State an annual NCAA contender had tapered off, while the locker room was colder than waiting for a CATA bus in February.

Washington wasn't going to have any of it. In just three short seasons, Penn State is looking up once again. The team that wouldn't succumb to Indiana's ferocious rally Sunday in the Bryce-Jordan Center is a cohesive unit that will do anything for each other to win.

It feels like an eternity since the Kelly Mazzante-led Lady Lions left Hartford Civic Center with a disappointing (some would have called it "rigged") Elite Eight loss to a Diana Turasi-led UConn Huskies team, who would later win its third-straight national title.

Those memories only feel so long ago because the fans have had little worth remembering since that March night in 2004. But now there is something very much worth remembering, something that's only going to get better.

This Penn State team might not shock the world, but it is on track to do so someday. When it does, it will have begun this season.

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