Nothing to lose

Amanda Vasil

Picked No. 2 in preseason polls doesn’t stop hopeful Flashes

There is only one thing senior guard Tiffany Kelly wants this year.

A Mid-American Conference championship ring.

Kelly, along with the rest of the Kent State women’s basketball team, said she is looking forward to the start of a new season and a new opportunity at becoming MAC champions.

“Because we made it to the MAC championship last year, it’s definitely our goal to get back there and basically win the NCAA,” she said.

Last season, the Flashes finished 21-9 overall and 12-4 in the MAC, taking the MAC East and advancing to the 2005 Kraft MAC championship.

The team endured a heartbreaking loss to the MAC West champion Bowling Green, 81-75.

This season, Bowling Green has moved over to the MAC East, giving the Flashes more competition and more reason to want to win, senior guard Kacie Vavrek said.

It doesn’t help that Bowling Green was picked to win the MAC East and the MAC championship, while Kent State fell to the second slot, again.

But the Flashes aren’t as worried as most would think.

“It kind of takes the pressure off of us in a way,” Vavrek said, “because we don’t really have anything to lose.”

If anything, being voted No. 2 in the preseason polls only encourages the Flashes to work harder to defeat Bowling Green and take the championship, Kelly said.

“I think it’s just payback,” she said. “We have to prove who we are now. It’s kind of like being the underdog and rising to the challenge.”

Part of rising to the challenge is realizing the strengths and weaknesses of the team. The Flashes already have begun to work on areas that need improvement, while building on what they have already flourished in, such as defense.

Senior guard Malika Willoughby was named the MAC Defensive Player of the Year last season after ranking second in the MAC in steals with nearly three per game. She also contributed offensively, averaging 10 points per game.

A big part of working defensively also is realizing individual and team goals, Kelly said.

While individual players may wish to improve on certain areas, the ultimate goal is always working together to win the MAC championship.

It’s easy for the team to work together, considering that many of the players have been playing together for years and have built strong relationships with one another, Vavrek said.

The only difference this season is that the senior leaders have more opportunities to better the program.

“Because we’re in a leadership role now, I want to help the players who are going to be seniors next year,” Kelly said. “Especially the players who are new to the program because this is our last year and we have to give it our all.”

One thing Kelly said she hopes to leave behind is a strong work ethic. She said she hopes to show this throughout the season both vocally and by example.

“I think getting through (the program) is being successful,” Kelly said, “because it is hard, and it is tough, and it teaches you so many life lessons, like just to fight through with whatever you do.”

For now, the team will begin pre-conference play, preparing for Bowling Green and the MAC tournament the whole way. Although the team is expected to win the games before MAC play begins, the MAC will stay the team’s main focus, Vavrek said.

Contact sports reporter Amanda Vasil at [email protected].