Six seniors lead Flashes into post-Shearer era

Tyler McIntosh

Senior guard La’kia Stewart was named MAC Sixth Man of the Year last season and was the team’s third-leading scorer. KATIE ROUPE | DAILY KENT STATER

Credit: Steve Schirra

Kent State’s women’s basketball team comes into the season with one glaring question facing the program.

How will it replace 2005-2006 Mid-American Conference Player of the Year Lindsay Shearer?

Coach Bob Lindsay, who has won 20 games or more in 11 of his 17 years at Kent State, said he will not rely on one player to carry this year’s team.

“We can’t be as dependent on one player to score,” Lindsay said. “The biggest thing is we have to have scoring balance. Last year Shearer would give us 20 points a game, and we have to make that up and have better balance.”

Lindsay said right now his team’s strength is its offense.

“I think we shoot the ball pretty well,” Lindsay said. “We are a pretty athletic team. We can push the ball up the floor.”

Last season, the Flashes were one game away from appearing in their sixth NCAA tournament. Senior guard Sarah Burgess said this year’s team expects nothing less than a repeat performance.

“Everybody needs to bring whatever they can to the team to make up for our losses,” Burgess said. “I expect to win as many games as we can. Then win a MAC championship and go dancing.”

While Shearer and fellow former Flashes teammate Malika Willoughby amounted for 42 percent of the points scored last season, Kent State does return its second- and third-leading scorers in Burgess (10 points per game) and forward La’kia Stewart (8 ppg).

Burgess, who had to sit out the fall semester last year after transferring from South Carolina, said having six seniors will make the transition easier.

“The experience of having six seniors on our team is a strength,” Burgess said. “Experience is key. You can’t train experience. It comes with years and years of playing college ball, which we all have. I think it will be the biggest part of our success this year.”

Stewart, last season’s MAC Sixth Man of the Year, was second on the team with six rebounds per game and led the team with five double-doubles in 2005.

Stewart said she anticipates being in the starting lineup permanently this year, but that won’t be her biggest challenge.

“Being a starter really doesn’t change my mindset at all,” Stewart said. “I have to go out and do the same thing as before.

“Being a leader is the biggest change. I have to be more of a leader vocally and by example. I think it’s a little bit easier for us with six seniors. It’s not like I have to lead by myself. I have five other people to help me out.”

Along with Burgess and Stewart, senior guard Kerrie James figures to be a key part of the Flashes’ success or failure.

James has increased her scoring average in each of the past three seasons. However, it was her defense that Lindsay praised James for.

“Kerrie James is our best defender,” Lindsay said. “She’s a very good on-the-ball defender. Kerrie is a proven defender she has been in the program for three years. She is someone who I can rely on.”

Sophomore guard Rachel Bennett started 20 games as a freshman and was second in three-point field goals made behind Burgess.

Senior centers Mallorie Griffith and Tiffany LaFleur will handle responsibilities in the post. Griffith was third on team in with 14 blocked shots. Griffith also grabbed 114 rebounds last season. LaFleur led the Flashes with 29 blocks.

New to Kent State this season are freshman guard Jamilah Humes, forward Lucie Luprichova and senior guard Kristin Peoples, who transferred in from Arkansas.

Peoples is taking advantage of a NCAA rule that allows a graduating player who has eligibility remaining to transfer to another school without having to miss any time. Peoples averaged 11 points and four assists per game last year for the Razorbacks.

Lindsay said it is still too early to get a good feel of what the newcomers would do for the team.

“We need significant contributions from everybody, freshmen included,” he said. “Their learning curve needs to be good. They need to understand what we are trying to do as quickly as possible and learn what’s expected of them.”

One freshman did impress Stewart with her performance in a recent scrimmage against Gannon.

“Me-Me (Jamilah Humes) just went out and played in the scrimmage,” Stewart said. “She didn’t worry about whether or not she was a freshman. She played through mistakes and went out and scored a little bit. She went hard to the offensive boards and she didn’t sit back like a freshman.”

Lindsay and Burgess both made it clear that Kent State’s first season in four years without their all-everything star is still a work in progress.

Lindsay sighted a lack of bodies as a potential problem and Burgess said the Flashes need to develop a certain toughness.

“We have depth problems,” Lindsay said. “We only have 12 kids and one of them can’t play because she is a transfer. If we run into a lot of injury problems then we are not going to have a lot of players.”

Kent State starts its season against Robert Morris at 5 p.m. Friday in Huntington, W.Va. Last Saturday’s game against South Dakota State was postponed.

Contact sports reporter Tyler McIntosh at [email protected].