Women’s basketball season preview: consistency, new leaders and Florida State


David Dermer

The Kent State women’s basketball team celebrates its win over Youngstown State University in the first round of the WNIT in Youngstown, Ohio March 16.

Isabella Schreck, Sports Editor

After a last-season finish that “still stings,” the Kent State women’s basketball team comes into this season more ready than ever.

“Our team is super hungry going into this year, and everybody’s motivated because of how last year ended,” graduate student forward Lindsey Thall said. “We’re just really looking forward to getting started.”

The Flashes finished 19-12 last season and tied for sixth in the Mid-American Conference at 10-10 – they did not make the MAC tournament.

The team split its final four games of the season and its two WNIT games. It averaged 68.3 points per game to its opponents’ 61.8.

Then-junior guard Katie Shumate led KSU with 374 points.

Katie Shumate (14), a then-junior guard on Kent’s women’s basketball team, scored 21 points against Central Michigan University. Feb. 2, 2022. (Lillie Leasure)

Due to COVID, Kent State’s game against Florida State in December 2021 was canceled and several MAC games were rescheduled.

Seventh-year coach Todd Starkey said his team will bring the lessons learned from that unexpectedness into this season.

“It taught us all to cherish every day more and be ready for just about anything,” he said. “How you handle the adversity that comes your way is more important than if it’s coming because it certainly is going to. You can’t hope for things to get easier.”

Regular season starts with 100+ point opponent

This year, league coaches picked the Flashes to finish fourth in the conference in the preseason poll.

Kent State opens the regular season at home against Florida State Thursday. The Flashes beat Division III Mercyhurst 72-40 in an exhibition game Nov. 3.

In their season opener Tuesday, the Seminoles defeated Bethune-Cookman 113-50 in their second-highest scoring game in program history. They have scored at least 115 points in both their victorious exhibition games.

Last season, the Seminoles finished 17-14 and lost to Missouri State in the NCAA First Four. Two of their top scorers – both sophomores – are returning.

“Florida State’s going to be a tougher team,” freshman guard Corynne Hauser said. “They’re going to be taller, more athletic and more physical, so being defensively sound, being smart and just trying to match their aggressiveness is going to be something to focus on.”

Freshman guard Ta’Niya Latson led her team with 36 points in its second exhibition game. She totaled 28 points on opening day and went 10-for-22 from the field.

Tuesday, Florida State had 67 rebounds, 16 coming from redshirt senior forward Erin Howard. She transferred from Auburn last season and started in 20 games with the Seminoles, where she averaged 5.1 points per game and made 21 3-pointers.

Senderoff said his team’s strength is its 3-point performance. Kent State was second in the MAC in 3-point percentage at .344, averaging 8.1 shots per game.

“We have the ability to be one of the better 3-point shooting teams in the country,” Starkey said. “When we’re hitting high-quality shots, we could be in any game that we’re playing, regardless of who’s wearing the other jersey.”

Forward Lindsey Thall holds the program record for most-career 3-pointers with 218. Four current players rank in the top 10 in program history for best 3-point percentage.

Then-senior forward Lindsey Thall and then-sophomore guard Casey Santoro celebrate during the Kent State women’s basketball game against Miami at Kent Feb. 7. (KSU Athletics)

Against Mercyhurst, Kent State shot 40% in the field and went 5-for-26 in 3 pointers. Graduate student forward-guard Annie Pavlansky led the team with 12 points.

After Thursday, KSU will have ten non-conference games remaining. Two opponents, Arkansas played on Nov. 17 and Oklahoma State played on Nov. 20, are Power 5 teams.

“We’ll have our work cut out for us in the month of November,” Starkey said. “We’re excited about getting things started and hopeful for good basketball to come.”

New season, new roster, more talent

This year, three of KSU’s fourteen players are forwards.

The team replaces three players from last season with three freshmen. There are three fifth-year seniors and three other upperclassmen.

“We’ve got a good level of experience back and some good young talents, and we’re figuring those pieces out and how they blend together,” Starkey said. “It will be a bit of an ongoing process.”

Senior forward Nila Blackford, who transferred to Xavier this season, was second on the team in points last season, scoring 325. She is the only top scorer not returning.

Forward Lindsey Thall, guard Hannah Young and forward-guard Annie Pavlansky are in their fifth years with the Flashes.

Thall averaged 11.4 points per game last season, the second most from her team. Young started in all 30 games and on average played 23.9 minutes per game. Pavlansky played 55 minutes.

Thall and Young said they both feel more “confident” this season.

Golden Flashes Women’s basketball plays Clarion on Sat, Dec. 11, 2021 and won 89-43. Then-senior guard Hannah Young (32) jumps and tries to shoot the ball.

This preseason, Young focused on all aspects of her game.

“I’ve been working on being able to hit down open shots, being more aggressive offensively, playing good defense and rebounding the ball offensively and defensively,” Young said.

Before the season began, the women said they predict Pavlansky will surprise their team this year.

“She’s stepped up in a big way as a leader and role model for everybody,” Thall said, “and that’s going to show.”

The forward-guard led her team in scoring against Mercyhurst, going 4-of-4 from the field and 1-of-1 on 3-pointers.

“I’ve been really trying to be consistent, getting better every single day and not dwelling on the past,” Pavlansky said after her performance. “I’ve had some personally good practices as of late. I’m just trying to lead by example every day and showing what it takes to get wins and championships and being a good example for a lot of underclassmen.”

Thall was second on her team with 11 points; Young scored six.

Senior guard Katie Schumate, who was first on her team in points last season with 374, went 1-for-2 from the field and totaled four points Nov. 3. Guard Grace Kelly, the team’s other fourth-year senior, shot 1-for-8 in the field.

Junior guard Casey Santoro tied for first in assists with four. She led KSU in assists last season.

Kent State sophomore Casey Santoro switches directions as she maneuvers down the court.
Kent State sophomore Casey Santoro switches directions as she maneuvers down the court Feb. 26. (Matthew Brown)

Sophomore forward Bridget Dunn, who tied with Thall for most 3-pointers last year, played 19 minutes and went 1-for-4 on 3-pointers.

Thall, Santoro, Shumate, Kelly and Young started in the exhibition game.

Freshmen Dionna Gray, Corynne Hauser and Tatiana Thomas.

Gray averaged 22 points a game last year and earned Gatorade’s West Virginia player of the year award. Thomas, from the Chicago suburbs, averaged 11.6 points.

Gray played 12:26 against Mercyhurst and had four points. Thomas played five minutes.

Hauser, who played 20 minutes, tied for second on the team in points with 11, going 4-of-7 from the field. She made four assists.

“I think I did pretty good,” Hauser said. “I came in with a lot of nerves but once we started playing I settled down a lot. Overall, I’m pretty comfortable.”

She averaged 25 points per game as an all-stater in Pennsylvania.

Coach’s corner: keys to the season

Despite a change in lineup, this season’s goals remain the same as year prior.

“It’s to win the conference and more importantly these days, to win the tournament – get hot at the right time,” Starkey said. “It’s making sure you’re playing your best basketball in late February and early March when the game matters the most.”

Under Starkey, KSU has won two MAC East championships. The team made it to the conference tournament in his first five seasons as coach.

Starkey said this year’s test will be how his team plays during games when it is not shooting well.

“Do we let that affect us or not?” he said. “If we can play through that, we have the potential to do some really nice things.”

For success this season, “consistency” is important.

“We need to grow and continue to know and learn our roles within the team and stay in those lanes,” Starkey said. “We still have some work to do with that, and once those things continue on the right track, the sky’s the limit for this group.”

Tip off against Florida State is at 7 p.m. Thursday in the M.A.C. Center.

“The energy and leadership has to continue to get better with this group,” Starkey said. “As we do that, the results are going to speak for themselves.”

Isabella Schreck is sports editor. Contact her at [email protected].