Women look to build on last season

Deanna Stevens

Plenty of experience returns for women’s basketball team

With last season so full of achievements, it would be easy for the Kent State women’s basketball team to be complacent.

Kent State finished with a 21-9 overall record and was 12-4 in the Mid-American Conference in the 2004-2005 season. It was the team’s 13th season with more than 20 wins.

One of those wins was the 300th for coach Bob Lindsay, making him the first women’s coach in the MAC to accomplish that.

But Lindsay said last season’s accomplishments have little impact on the championship hunt this season.

The Flashes were defeated by the Bowling Green Falcons in the MAC tournament championship game last season. But even with the loss, the Flashes found a way to make history with a 44-point, record-setting performance by senior forward Lindsay Shearer.

But that was last season.

This season, the Flashes are ready to work with the team they have and do the best they can with them, Lindsay said.

And the team they have now includes four returning seniors, including First Team All-MAC starting forward Shearer and MAC Defensive Player of the Year, starting point guard Malika Willoughby.

Willoughby said the team is preparing to go back to the championship game this season. She added that the team lost by six points in the game last season due to a few “defensive lapses.” This season, in alliance with Lindsay’s defensive-minded philosophy, pressure on the ball is a must.

Going back to the championship level is not the only goal the Flashes are looking to achieve this season.

“We have the same goals every year,” Lindsay said. “To be the best defensive team in the league, win our division, and try to finish top three in the MAC overall.”       

Rounding out the seniors trying to accomplish these goals for the Flashes are starting shooting guard Tiffany Kelly and guard Kacie Vavrek.

Seniors aren’t the only players coming back with experience for the Flashes. Also returning are five juniors looking to do their part to contribute to the squad.

Kerrie James, voted most improved by her team, returns in the guard position. Guard La’kia Stewart, forward Mallorie Griffith and starting center Tiffany LaFleur also are ready to win another MAC championship for the Flashes.

A fellow transfer, Willoughby said junior guard Sarah Burgess, a transfer from South Carolina, will be a player to watch out for at Kent State. Burgess’ outside shooting skills will help pick up the slack from the team’s only lost starter, Melissa DeGrate, Lindsay said.

Representing for the second year players is sophomore guard Asheley Harkins. She played in only 12 games last season after tearing her ACL in a December practice. She should be fully recovered this season.

New to the Flashes this season are freshmen forward Samantha Scull, forward Michelle Hamblin and guard Rachel Bennett.

It would be easy for the newcomers to be a bit intimidated playing for a team such as the Flashes, with so many veterans. However, receiving the opportunity to learn from such an experienced group will only help, Lindsay said.

“It is a great advantage being on the same team with so many juniors and seniors,” Lindsay said. “I think that young players can really benefit from playing with older players. That’s how young players get better.”

Even before the season started, the team has come up with a convincing 97-60 win in their only exhibition game against Gannon.

In the game, every player scored at least three points and five players reached double figures. Vavrek led the Flashes with 18 points, including four three-pointers. Stewart contributed 14 points and 10 rebounds to the effort.

The regular season will be filled with challenges for the Flashes. Lindsay said the Xavier tournament and the game against Auburn will be notable.

The Flashes begin conference play at Ohio Jan. 8.

The regular season begins against Lipscomb University at 7 p.m. tonight at the M.A.C. Center.

Contact sports reporter Deanna Stevens at [email protected].