Media Day: Talk of youth, talent, risks, and an exciting team for 2019-20

Media day

The seniors at Media Day: forward Sydney Brinlee, guard/forward Ali Poole, guard Megan Carter, with coach Todd Starkey. (Photo from team Twitter feed.)

Every college basketball coach, Kent State’s Todd Starkey told the Media Day Wednesday, is saying the same thing at this time of your.

“I’m cautiously optimistic,” he said. “We’re at that time of the year when you’re not really sure of what kind of team you have.”

His team is young, he said. It’s also talented.

“The question is,” hew said. “‘What’s going to win out this season?’ Is it going to be talent, or is it going to be youth? That’s the kind of the yin and yang we have right now in practice.

“There are times we look really good, and there are times we’re very average. That’s what we’re working through, but the middle of October is the time to be working on that.”

The Flashes are coming off of a 20-13 season and their first postseason win in 23 years — a 64-59 victory at Green Bay in the WNIT.

They have a lot of returning firepower. Senior Megan Carter was KSU’s leading scorer last season and third-team all-MAC. (“We’re looking for her to stake a claim as one of the top players in the league,” Starkey said.) Sophomore guard Asiah Dingle (“a nightmare to stop in transition”) and sophomore forward Lindsay Thall (“shooting very well” were members of the league’s all-freshman team.

Senior Ali Poole started 19 of Kent’s 33 games last season and 48 games in her career. She was KSU’s fourth-leading scorer last season. She also is still recovering from a knee injury (“progressed a lot quicker when we’ve hoped,” Starkey said). But it’s still unclear when she’ll be able to go full speed in games.

Two more sophomores — guards Hannah Young and Mariah Modkins — were among the first players off the bench last season.

That’s four sophomore and two seniors.

Add three freshmen who have played big roles in practice and the team’s exhibition tour of British Columbia this summer, and you have the team’s youth.

“We’re still trying to figure some things out,” Starkey said, “but we definitely can be better than last year. This has the opportunity to be our most exciting team to watch.”

A chance to play ‘risky’ defense

“We’ve been fairly plain vanilla,” Starkey said. “We’re looking at trying to expand that, take some calculated risks and try to generate more offense from our defense.

“I think we have the athletes on the roster this your to take risks. With some of your younger players in the wing positions, we’ve got players who can cover more ground more quickly and who have length and athleticism.”

The players who are back

A non-comprehensive list from Starkey:

ASIAH DINGLE, the 5-4 point guard who averaged 12.9 points a game: “Everybody knows how good she can be at times. Her level of consistency has continued to rise.” In earlier interviews, both she and Starkey said she had worked to develop her 3-point shot (just 16.4% last season) and create opportunities for her teammates. She averaged 6.7 assists a game during Kent’s Canada trip; she averaged 2.3 last season.

CLARE KELLY, 5-8 freshman guard from Olmsted Falls: “At times, the best shooter on the planet. Like she can’t miss.” She was 9 for 18 on 3s in Vancouver.

KATIE SHUMATE, 5-11 freshman guard from Newark, and NILA BLACKFORD, 6-2 freshman forward from Louisville, Kentucky: “They’re just making plays all over the court.” Shumate was second on the team in scoring in Candada. Blackford led the team in rebounding.

SYDNEY BRINLEE, 6-foot senior forward from Allen, Oklahoma. She was the third senior with Poole and Carter at media day: “She is going to fill some significant minutes for us because of her energy, her voice, her improvement.”

HANNAH YOUNG, 5-10 sophomore guard from Brookville, Va.: “Much improved. Worked very hard in the off season on her footwork. Is shooting the ball very well.”

Carter, Thall and Poole were covered earlier in this post.

The players who left

Kent State lost two players — guard Alexa Golden and center Merissa Barber-Smith — to graduation. They averaged a total of just 10.6 points a game, but their impact was more than points.

“What Alexa meant to our team from a leadership standpoint was significant,” Starkey said. “And you don’t have that voice on the court any more. She’s not going to be able to cover up for people’s mistakes on the court defensively like she did last year.”

(Golden is still with the team as a graduate assistant.)

“Merissa was the most dominant rebounder in the country last year per minutes played,” the coach said. “She had some huge rebounding games down the stretch and really helped us win.”

The WNIT glow

All of the players and Starkey said the Flashes’ WNIT win in Green Bay gave the program a big boost.

“We’ll sit and talk in the locker room,” Poole said. “The freshmen will kind of hop in. They’ve never done any of this before. So we’re like, ‘This is what happens. Now this is what we have to do next year.'”

“It gives us confidence,” Brinlee said. “It pushes us to want more, and we feed off of each other.”

The fan base grows

Season tickets, Starkey said, are running ahead of last year. Attendance grew through last season, hitting 1,928 against Miami in late February. This season’s home highlight, of course, is KSU’s Nov. 21 game against Ohio State. It’s the first time the teams have met since 1982.

Link to ticket site.

A chance to play another team

The Flashes get their first look at outside competition in two closed scrimmages over the next two weeks. They’ll play Cleveland State of the Horizon League and Pittsburgh of the ACC.

The NCAA allows a combination of two closed scrimmages and exhibition games. Exhibitions are usually against Division II or Division III team. More schools have gone to two scrimmages to face better competition. KSU’s men’s team has done that for years.

When’s the first game?

The Flashes open at Duquesne on Tuesday, Nov. 5. The game will be at the PPG Paints Arena, home of the Pittsburgh Penguins. It’s the second game of a double-header, so it will start about 8:30.. (First game is Keith Dambrot’s men’s team against Princeton. Dambrot is the former Akron coach.)

Flashes will play at Youngstown on Saturday, Nov. 9.

Then they play Michigan at the James A. Rhodes Arena at Akron on Friday afternoon,  Nov. 15. It’s the first game of the “Akron Classic,” in which Kent State and Akron play the same teams on successive days. On alternate years, it’s the “Kent State Classic at the M.A.C.C. KSU will play Purdue Fort Wayne Saturday in Akron.

Home opener is the Ohio State game Nov. 21.

I’ve got some leftover material from media day and earlier interviews I’ll try to post in the next few days.





Recruiting update: Flashes add post who averaged double-double, posted triple-double

Starkey clap (1)

Coach Todd Starkey and team after victory last season. (Photo from KSU website.)

A 6-3 forward from suburban Pittsburgh who averaged a double-double as a junior is Kent State’s third verbal commitment in the class of 2020.

She is Lexi Jackson of Gateway High School in Monroeville, who averaged 16 points, 18 rebounds and six blocks a game last season. In one game, she had a triple double of 37 points, 16 rebounds and 11 blocks.

She tweeted earlier this fall that she planned to attend KSU. Coaches can’t comment on recruits until they’ve received signed letters of intent. The earliest that can happen is Nov. 13.

Jackson was a third-team member of the Pennsylvania Sports Writers Class 5A All State team and is taller than any other player on the first, second or third team. One recruiting service ranked here as the third best power forward in the state.

Her team finished 19-4, won its league title and lost in the regional quarterfinals.

Jackson had offers from at least four other mid-majors, including Western Michigan and James Madison.

In an interview with TribLive, a Pittsburgh online news site, she said she was sold on Kent State’s coaching staff.

““You can tell the coaches really care about the girls (on the team),” Jackson told the site.

Her high school coach, Curtis Williams, said KSU coach Todd Starkey was “really, really genuine” in the recruiting process.

“He appeared to care for her as a person, not just a player,”  he said in the TribLive article. “That was most critical to her decision making.”

Williams was very high on Jackson as a player.

“She’s a young player in terms of her growth and development over the last 18-24 months,” he said. “She is scratching the surface with how good she can be. Most people aren’t aware of what is she capable of.”

Jackson joins two-time all-state guard Casey Santoro from Bellevue High School in northwestern Ohio as an announced KSU commit. Kent Coaches tweeted another commitment in June but couldn’t name the player because of NCAA rules. I hear she is a 6-4 post player from Ohio who isn’t active on social media, which is the only way I can learn her name.

Santoro was district player of the year and first-team all-Ohio in both her sophomore and junior seasons. She and averaged 22 points last year, once scoring 40 points in a game where she made 10 three-point shots.

Casey is the sister of Carly Santoro, who started three years for Bowing Green, then graduated early and transferred to Ohio State. She also started there. The Santoro sisters’ father, Kory, is Bellevue’s head girls coach.

The two incoming post players and 6-4 Indiana transfer Linsey Marchese will give Kent State as much size in the front line as it has ever had. Marchese will sit out this year because of NCAA transfer regulations. Marchese scored in double figures in all three of Kent’s exhibition games in British Columbia in August. She was a highly ranked high school recruit out of Georgia who was recruited by Starkey when he was an assistant for the Hoosiers. Marchese was a backup at Indiana, averaging about 11 minutes a game over two years.

From my conversations with Starkey, I’m pretty sure that’s all the recruits he’ll sign in November.

He and his assistants are working hard on the class of 2021. Starkey was in Texas last month for an open high school practice to see a 6-2 forward rated one of the best in the state. Assistant Morgan Toles was at another open gym in Michigan, where she watched one of that state’s best junior guards, who later tweeted that KSU (and MAC rival Central Michigan) was one of the six final schools she’s considering.

(Central, by the way, landed 2020 forward Rachel Loobie, who seemed to have offers from most teams in the MAC. I mentioned her earlier when she posted (in a single tweet) photos of her visiting Kent State, Miami and Bowling Green.)

“We’ve been very active on the 21 class and the 22 class,” Starkey said in an interview earlier this month. “Those are the two classes that are going to replace the young talent (on the current roster) moving forward.”

When the class of 2022 arrives at Kent, the team’s current six-person sophomore class will be seniors. Two players from that class made the MAC’s all–freshman team last season. Two more were key reserves. Marchese will become a member of that class, and she’s very likely to be a starter next season.

Kent State will lose three players to graduation in May — last year’s leading scorer, guard Megan Carter; guard/forward Ali Poole, who was KSU’s fourth leading scorer last season, and forward Sydney Brinlee, who was the second post player off the bench last season.

The Flashes’ current junior class, which will graduate in 2021, has only two members, neither of whom played significant minutes last season.

Director of basketball operations moves on and up

Alison Seberger, KSU’s director of basketball operations since Starkey arrived, has become an assistant coach at North Alabama.

It’s an expected move for someone in that job. Director of basketball operations is sort of a junior assistant coach. She handles many of the mechanics of the team, especially travel arrangements and scheduling for recruit who visit Kent State. She  helps in practice but can’t recruit off–campus.

Seberger’s busiest time at Kent State came during the Flashes’ two-game run in the WNIT last season. She had to schedule travel arrangements for both games on two- and three-day notice. I heard one player tease her during the trip that the phone grew out of Seberger’s ear.

In a goodbye tweet, assistant Mike McKee called her “one of the best DOBO’s to ever do it!”

No replacement has been announced.



Women vs. OSU will be featured game in November doubleheader at M.A.C.C

Ali in brace

Senior Ali Poole (right), who started 19 games last season, is still recovering from a knee injury suffered in practice this summer. Wearing a hefty knee brace, she participated in drills last week that required no significant movement or contact. Her status for the upcoming season is still unclear. (Details below.) Other player in photo is sophomore Lindsay Thall.

Perhaps for the first time, the Kent State women’s basketball team will play the marquee game in a doubleheader with the men.

When the women host Ohio State on Thursday, Nov. 21, they’ll play the 7:30 p.m. game — after the men play Division II Concord at 5 p.m.

In every other evening doubleheader I remember in 35 years of following KSU sports, the women always played first — before the crowds arrive.

But the Ohio State game is something special. The Buckeyes are the biggest name (men or women) to visit the M.A.C. Center this season and certainly one of the biggest schools ever. It’s also the first time the two teams have played since 1981.

When the game was announced earlier this summer, coach Todd Starkey said he dreamed of filling the 6,200-seat M.A.C.C.

The doubleheader is one more piece that might make that happen.

Biggest women’s crowd I can remember was about 4,500 in 2010, when the Flashes lost to Bowling Green in a “10 tickets for $10” promotion. I remember talking at that game to Judy Devine, KSU’s first women’s coach and later longtime top woman sports administrator for the university. She told me that there were crowds that large in the late 1970s and early 1980s. “A different era,” she said.

Other game times of note:

  • The Flashes opener at Duquesne on Tuesday, Nov. 5, will also be the second game of a doubleheader. The Duquesne men play Princeton at 6. The KSU game will start at about 8:30 or a half hour after the men end. It will be the first game Duquesne women have ever played at PPG Paints Arena, the home of the Pittsburgh Penguins hockey team.
  • The Flashes’ game vs. Michigan at the Akron Class will be at 2 p.m. Friday, Nov. 15, an awkward time for fans.
  • Kent State will play St. Bonaventure at noon Tuesday, Dec. 3. It’s a “school day” game with students from local elementary and secondary schools invited. The men play at 7 that night against Detroit Mercy.
  • The Flashes have two other home doubleheaders:
    • 1 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 11, vs. Western Michigan. The men play Central Michigan at about 3:30 p.m.
    • About 3:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 15, vs. Toledo. The men’s game against Ohio starts at 1.
  • Kent State’s two games at the Las Vegas Holiday Hoops Classic start at 3 p.m. (noon Kent time). The Flashes play Georgia Southern on Thursday, Dec. 19, and Troy on Friday, Dec. 20.

Link to full KSU schedule.

Senior Ali Poole rehabbing an injured knee

Poole was injured in practice in August, shortly before the team’s exhibition game trip to Vancouver, Canada.

She has been in rehabilitation since. When I watched practice last week, she wore an impressively large knee brace. She did take part of a couple of non-contact drills, shot some free throws with the team and spent a lot of time shooting three-point shots with a team manager. (Her shooting looked pretty good.)

“We just continuing to see how she progresses,” Starkey said after practice. “She’s actually ahead of where I thought she’s be at this point. So I’m optimistic.

“We need her, We need her experience, and we need her leadership.”

Poole averaged 8.8 points a game last season, fourth best on the team. She started 19 of 33 games and averaged almost 28 minutes per game. Poole, Megan Carter and Sydney Brinlee are the seniors on the team.

It’s been a rough year for women in the Poole family. Her sister, Mikayla, plays basketball for Malone. Mikayla watched a couple of KSU games last season with a dislocated shoulder in a sling. The sisters’ mother, Jodie, watched her daughters play last season with her own foot in a cast after surgery. Jodie had been an assistant and junior varsity coach at Carrollton High School for many years.



‘Don’t squander it,’ Starkey tells his team as 2019-20 practice begins

Passing drill (2)

A first-day passing drill with coach Starkey and freshman guard Clare Kelly. Next to Starkey is sophomore point guard Asiah Dingle.

“Every season, every team writes its own story,” coach Todd Starkey told his 14 players as they stood in a loose circle at center court in the M.A.C. Center at 9:45 a.m. Thursday.

Starkey has used the phrase before, but it seemed very apt on Thursday, his team’s first official day of practice.

He nodded toward Alexa Golden, the four-year starter who has moved into a graduate assistant role with the team.

“Last year Lex and Merissa (Barber-Smith, last season’s other senior) stood where you are,” Starkey went on. “It happens fast. A blink and it will be gone.

“Don’t squander it.”

And with that started the 2019-20 women’s basketball season, one that brings much promise. The Flashes return four starters and 83.4 percent of their scoring from a 20-13 season. They have three promising freshmen, two of whom could well be in the starting lineup their first game at Duquesne Nov. 5.

The goal, said senior Megan Carter, the team’s leading scorer last year, is simple.

“A MAC title,” she said after practice.

It’s certainly within the realm of possibility. The Flashes were fifth in the Mid-American Conference last season. Of the four teams ahead of them, only Ohio (27-8 last season) has more firepower returning. Central Michigan and Buffalo, last season’s divisional champions, had major graduation losses. Miami has its two best players back but graduated three other starters and lost its coach to Marquette.

Other teams, especially Northern Illinois and Ball State, looked to be improved. But Kent State is as good a bet as any for the top four spots, which earn a bye at the MAC Tournament.

But, as Starkey reminded his team Thursday, that’s almost six months away.

“It’s three-and-a-half weeks until our first game,” he said. “It will happen quickly — and we’re not ready. We need the practice.”

So the Flashes set to work. In the two hours, the team:

  • Put up a lot of shots in fast-moving drills. Sometimes they’d hit five 3-point baskets in a row, then miss five 15 seconds later. But there is no doubt that this team has shooters, and they’ve been working on improving.
  • Worked for a long time on “back screen defense” — a way to stop opposing teams from freeing a shooter by running her by another player. (It’s basic basketball, but I still understood only about 30 percent of what Starkey was saying.)
  • Ran their half-court offense — not hugely different than what we saw last season — with a lot of different combinations of players.
  • Introduced the basic 1-3-1 defense with variations — for example,  a post in the center, or a point guard in the center.
  • Hit five of six free throws at the end of practice to avoid having to run sprints.

“We’re still very young,” Starkey said. (There are likely to be four sophomore and three freshmen among its top nine or 10 players.}

“So you saw a lot of teaching today,” he said. “There was a lot of talking and teaching and breaking down stuff. We’re going to need to be about that for the next two to three weeks.”

NCAA rules allowed the Flashes to practice four hours a week this summer — with more time before and during the team’s exhibition tour to Vancouver, Canada, in August. Starkey and his assistants emphasized individual work.

“Our assistant coaches did a phenomenal job of helping every player’s individual skill set,” he said. “But from a team defensive standpoint, we need time and reps.”

(For the record, the coach said almost exactly the same thing a year ago, and defense turned out to be the team’s strength.)

I’ve got a lot more from the practice, the Starkey interview and brief chats with four key players. I’ll be adding posts for the next few days.

But let’s give the last word on the first day to Starkey, who’s seen 21 seasons begin as a coach.

“It’s always new,” he said. “New practice gear, new shoes, and always a new level of excitement.”



A new place to practice

Practice facility

This is Kent State’s new practice facility for basketball and volleyball. Located in the M.A.C. Center Annex, it opened last week. The teams will use it when the university needs the M.A.C.C. for other things, such as graduation or concerts. It also will give the teams more flexibility in setting practice times. (Photo from KSU Twitter feed.)

Kent Stater sports writer Ian Kreider did a major piece on the facility when it was under construction.

Here’s a video the team posted on Twitter Monday.


More on the MAC: Ohio gets another good one; NIU gets a good one back

Carter vs Toledo (1)
Kent State guard Megan Carter in action at Toledo last season. Flashes beat the Rockets in Toledo. Toledo has lost only nine games at home in the last two season, three of them to Kent State. 
A Toledo fan with the handle “Dwight” posted a comment on the Flash Fanatics bulletin board that added some good information to my post on the MAC schedule earlier this week.
(I usually post a summary of the blog on the bulletin board with a link to here.)
Dwight obviously had read the full blog post, which had a lot more detail than I posted on the board. Here’s what he had to say (with some of my thoughts in italic:
Thanks for all of the great information on your blog. One small correction regarding your blog post. If memory serves, Central Michigan lost its first-round NCAA game in a nail-biter to Michigan State.

He’s right, of course. It was two years ago Central won two NCAA games and made it to the Sweet 16.

You mentioned that Ohio has its top four starters back. In addition, the Bobcats have the services of Caitlyn Kroll, who averaged 13.4 ppg and was voted newcomer of the year in the Northeast Conference in her freshman year at St. Francis (Pa.) before transferring to Ohio and sitting out last year due to NCAA transfer rules.

As a Toledo fan, I hope you’re right about the Rockets being able to contend with the top teams in the conference. However, the Rockets lost three starters to graduation, including their best player. A repeat of last year’s six seed in the conference tournament should probably be considered a success. Toledo still has a good reputation from its success in Coach Cullop’s early years, but the last time the Rockets were better than 12-6 in the conference was 2012-13.
Toledo did graduate Kayla McIntyre, the 6-2 center who was second-team all-MAC, and guard Mikaela Boyd, who was honorable mention all-league. The Rockers do have back three players who started at least 11 games, including their second leading scorer. But Dwight obviously knows a lot more about Toledo than I do. It would be most unusual, though, if the Rockets didn’t have a solid team.

In addition to having four starters back, Northern Illinois will have Courtney Woods, who returns for a redshirt senior year after undergoing knee surgery early last season. Woods averaged 22 ppg and 8 rpg during her junior season.

I had forgotten Woods is back. She’s a very good player. Her return moves my opinion of NIU up a couple of notches.

I think Central Michigan will be only average this season. Last year the Chips rode the backs of two amazing players, both of whom are gone. I don’t see a lot of talent on that roster, although I have no idea what new players are coming in this year. 

No team can graduate all-MAC players like Presley Hudson and Reyna Frost and not suffer. Junior guard Michaela Kelly is back, and she impressed me a lot last year. The Chippewas’ freshman class looks good, and the program is always strong. They certainly won’t be a favorite, but I’ll be surprised if they’re not good.

My thoughts on the league outlook were almost throwaway comments on a post on Kent State’s schedule.  I’ve glanced at the league’s rosters but obviously don’t know them as well as Dwight from Toledo.
I’m sure we’ll talk a lot more about the MAC when we see the teams on the court.

MAC schedule has Kent playing Western foes Toledo and Ball State twice

The MAC released the women’s conference schedule today.

Kent State (11-7 in the MAC last season, 20-13 overall), have its top four scorers and 84% of their points back, along with three freshmen who were impressive in the team’s summer exhibition trip to British Columbia. 

Notes on the KSU league schedule (non-conference schedule was released weeks ago):

  • The Flashes open conference play at Ball State on Saturday, Jan. 4.
    • The good: It’s always good to play early conference games away, when students haven’t returned to campus. It’s also nice to take longer trips before the semester starts so students don’t miss class.
    • The bad: Kent State played its worst MAC game of the season at Ball State when it made just 24% of its shots and lost to the 11th-place Cardinals 48-44. A strange but awful statistic: KSU hasn’t won at Ball State since 1997. Because Ball State is in the MAC’s Western Division, the Flashes only play there every few years, but still…
    • The opponent: Ball State (3-15 in the MAC last season and 8-23 overall) ought to be substantially improved. The Cardinals have their top four scorers back, plus a star freshman who was injured early last season. They have been one of the MAC’s better teams over the last decade. Last year’s team struggled in large part because its best two returning players graduated early and transferred to other Division I schools.
  • The Flashes open at home the next Wednesday, Jan. 8, against Eastern Michigan
    • The good: Coach Todd Starkey has beaten EMU six straight times since he became head coach in 2016.
    • The bad: Eastern’s recruiting classes have been rated among the best in the MAC every year since Fred Castro became coach the same year as Starkey did. The Eagles have yet to have a winning season under Castro, but you fear that eventually they’ll put it together.
    • The opponent: Eastern finished ninth in the MAC last season at 6-12 and was 14-17 overall.
  • MAC teams play every school in their division twice. They play all teams in the other division but only two of them twice. Kent plays Ball State (see above) away and in Kent. The Flashes play Toledo home and away. KSU had beaten Toledo three straight times in Toledo, where the Rockets generally dominate. Toledo is always in the MAC first division and likely will be again.
  • Kent State plays its two single away games at Western Michigan and at Central Michigan. Both are about a four-and-a-half-hour bus rides. The Western game is the Saturday before classes start; the Flashes play Central on a February Wednesday. Central won the MAC last season but lost two all-conference players. WMU was 10th.
  • Western Division teams that KSU plays only in Kent are Northern Illinois (10-8 and 19-13 overall last season) and Eastern Michigan (see above).
  • The Flashes finish the season with five straight games against Eastern Division teams. Their last game is against Buffalo for the sixth season in a row, this year at Buffalo. The Bulls, second in the MAC last season, lost a lot to graduation but have a strong freshman class.

The MAC ranked eighth of 32 conferences last season. It will tough again. Central Michigan and Buffalo both made the NCAA tournament last season. On paper, no team except Ohio looks that good at this point.

Ohio, which went 27-5 last season (14-4 MAC) and just missed the NCAA tournament, has its best four starters back and figures to be the MAC favorite.

Both Buffalo (23-9, 12-6) and Central Michigan (25-4, 25-7) lost a lot to graduation, but I’m sure they’ll be good again. Both won their first game in the NCAA tournament last season.

Kent State (11-7, 20-13) and Toledo (11-7, 20-11) should be competitive with any of those schools.

Miami went 23-8 last season (13-5 MAC) and has its best two players (but no other starters) back and a new coach. Northern Illinois (10-8 MAC, 19-13) lost its top scorer but has its other starters back.

Ball State (3-15, 9-23) and Western Michigan (4-14, 10-20) get key players back from injury and could be substantially better.

Eastern Michigan (6-12, 14-17) still hasn’t proven it can win.

I’ll be surprised if Akron (7-11, 16-14) and Bowling Green (2-16, 9-21), both rebuilding with second-year coaches, make the top half of the league.

Full KSU non-conference and conference schedule

Last season’s final MAC standings




Class of 2023 scored 4,500 points in high school, 93 on KSU’s Canada trip


KSU’s class of 2023 (from left): Katie Shumate of Newark, Ohio, coach Todd Starkey: Nila Blackford of Louisville, Kentucky, and Clare Kelly of Olmsted Falls, Ohio. photo was taken at freshman rally at the M.A.C. Center last week. (From team Twitter feed.)

Kent State’s three freshmen  — 6-foot-2 forward Nila Blackford, 5-11 wing Katie Shumate and 5-8 guard Clare Kelly — scored almost a third of Kent State’s points on the team’s trip to British Columbia earlier this month.

That was taking up where they left off in high school, where the three scored a combined 4,500 points (exactly) and made a total of eight all-state teams.

On KSU’s trip to Vancouver, Blackford led the team in rebounding (7.7 per game); Shumate was second at 7.3.

Shumate was second in scoring to sophomore point guard Asiah Dingle at 12.3 points per game, second in steals and blocked shots and third in assists.

Kelly led the team in 3-point shooting, making 9 of 18 shots, and averaged 9.7 points a game. Blackford averaged 9.0 points.

“Our three freshmen can score at a much higher than the two seniors we lost to graduation,” coach Todd Starkey said in an interview before the trip.

None is likely immediately to be Kent State’s voice on defense, as was guard Alexa Golden, a member of the MAC all-defensive team who ranked among conference leaders in steals, rebounding, assists blocked shots and minutes played. But Golden, now a graduate assistant with the team, averaged 7.6 points per game.

None is likely to get 20 rebounds in a game, as did 6-4 Merissa Barber-Smith against Bowling Green in the MAC Tournament. Barber-Smith led KSU in rebounding with 7.6 per game in less than 18 minutes per game. But she averaged just three points a game.

Shumate and Blackford “could put up 12 and 12 (points and rebounds) in a game,” Starkey said.

Kelly made 37% of her 3-point shots in high school. That’s more than a percentage point higher than sophomore Lindsay Thall did her senior year, and Thall led the MAC in 3-point percentage last season.

All three have been impressive in conditioning and the weight room, too. Kelly set a team record by lifting 100 pounds 23 times. Shumate had the team’s best vertical leap at 10 feet 2 inches, with Blackford close behind. Katie won the team’s mile run, and Blackford the team’s three-quarter-court sprint.

Blackford in Vancouver (1)

Nila Blackford

6-2 forward from Dupont Manual High School in Louisville, Kentucky

HER STATS FROM THE VANCOUVER TRIP: 27 points, 23 rebounds, four steals, three blocked shots. Nine points, 10 rebounds, two assists and a block against Vancouver Island University.


“Nila has the ability to play multiple positions, mostly forward and wing. She’s probably our best offensive rebounder on the team already. She is developing consistency in her perimeter game, can drive and has a knack for scoring in transition and around the basket.”

HIGH SCHOOL: First-team all-Kentucky, one of 16 regional players of the year, which made her a finalist for Miss Basketball in Kentucky. Averaged 19.3 points and 10.9 rebounds and shot 48.5% from the field. Her team went 21-10 and lost in regional final. In four years, Blackford played in four regional finals and two state tournaments. In her high school career, she had 1,499 points and 939 rebounds.

Manual coach Jeff Sparks, quoted in the Louisville Courier-Journal: 

“A very talented and gifted athlete, one of the best I have had the pleasure to coach. She faced double and triple coverage in the majority of our games. I really saw her grow in her ability to score in different ways and play with a confidence that allowed her to not get rattled against the pressure she saw every night.”

Kelly in Vancouver (1)

Clare Kelly

5-8 guard from Olmsted Falls, a Cleveland suburb

STATS FROM VANCOUVER: 29 points, four assists, 9 of 18 three-point shots. Had 12 points, two assists and a steal against British Columbia.

Starkey on Kelly:

“Claire has a really high basketball IQ and understands the flow of the game. She sees the floor; she’s a great passer. She’s come in shooting the ball with a lot of confidence,”

HIGH SCHOOL: Second-team all-Ohio as a senior and sophomore, third team as junior. As a senior, averaged 18.5 points, 6.7 rebounds and 2.8 steals on team that went 21-4. Made 48.2% of field goal and 37.2% of 3-point shots. Hit 8 of 11 three-point shots in district finals. In her career, made 204 3-pointers, a school record, and hit 37.7% of 3-point shots, also a record. Scored 1,636 points in high school, second in school history.

From Jordan Eaton, her high school coach:

“Clare Kelly has unlimited range from 3. There are plenty of player who love winning…Clare hates losing.”

Shumate in Vancouver

Katie Shumate

5-11 guard from Newark High School, 30 miles east of Columbus

STATS FROM VANCOUVER: 37 points, 22 rebounds, five steals, six assists, four blocks. Had 19 points, 12 rebounds, two assists, two blocks, one steal against University of British Columbia.

Starkey on Shumate:

“Katie has the ability to play four positions. She’s got enough basketball IQ and ball handling ability to play the point. She’s athletic and long enough to defend fours (forwards) and play the four spot we need her to. She’s done a really good job of attacking the basket and scoring in transition and rebounding from the guard position.”

HIGH SCHOOL: Second-team all-Ohio as senior and junior, first team as sophomore. District player of the year as junior and senior. As a senior, averaged 15 points, six rebounds, four assists and three steals aand shot 50% from the field on a team that went 24-4. Over four years, her high school teams went 96-15 and won four district and one regional titles. Scored 1,365 points in four years, fourth best in program history. Second in steals, fourth in assists, ninth in rebounding in school history.

From her father and high school coach, J.R. Shumate, as quoted in the Newark Advocate:

“With her stats, you’d think she was a post player. The thing that stands out in her career is versatility. She led us in eight different categories this year.”

From Kurt Snyder, sports editor of the Newark Advocate, her hometown paper:

“Has nice touch in the paint, at the line and from 3-point range. Uses her length and instincts to get a ton of steals and deflections. Is a good shot blocker and defensive rebounder for a guard.”

Earlier posts


What we learned from the trip (part 2): Shooting, rebound and assists

Image-1 (2)

Sophomore guard Hannah Young in action in British Columbia. She made all four of her 3-point shots in KSU’s final game. (Photo from team Twitter feed.)

In Part 1 of the post after the women’s games in Vancouver, we talked about the growth of point guard Asiah Dingle, the strong performance of KSU’s three freshmen and the implications of a team that scored 287 points in three games.

As with that post, we have to warn that big wins against less-good opposition makes any conclusions tentative at best. The teams the Flashes played seemed similar to Division II competition in the U.S. — substantially less that what they will face in the MAC.

Shoring up weaknesses

Kent State had a 20-13 season last year, but two big things jumped out in postseason analysis:

  • KSU was not a good shooting team — especially 2-point shooting, where they ranked 308th of 351 teams in Division I at at 39.5%. When Kent State lost, especially to teams below it in the standings, it was usually because it struggled to make baskets.
  • The Flashes weren’t very good at setting each other up to score. Kent ranked 311th in the country with 10.6 assists per game. KSU had assists on 48.6% of its baskets.

Coaches have been working to correct both.

“There are two ways you get better,” coach Todd Starkey said in an interview before the Vancouver trip. “You develop your current players, and we’ve addressed it in our daily workouts. Then you recruit better scorers.

“We have three players in our freshman class who can really score the basketball and finish plays. All three of them are effective 3-point shooters, but none of them are only 3-point shooters. Two can really finish around the basket — not from a traditional post player standard, but they can really finish.”

The evidence from the trip:

  • The three freshmen combined to make 45% of their shots from both 2- and 3-point range. Take out Nila Blackford’s 4-for-15 day against Vancouver Island, and they made 48% of their 2-point shots. Katie Shumate was 15 for 28 from 2-point range. Clare Kelly was 9 of 18 on 3-point shots.

Part of that could was likely the level of competition. But the freshmen’s shooting percentage was considerably higher than that of returning starters Megan Carter and Lindsay Thall. Neither had good trips, but Carter was third-team all-MAC last season and Thall made the all-freshman team and led the league in 3-point shootings.

Dingle, whose shooting percentage last year was 38, made 52% of her shots in Vancouver.

Dingle also led the way in a big improvement with assists. She average 6.7 a game, more than two-and-a-half times numbers last year. As a team, KSU averaged 16.3 assists though it had assists on only 43% of baskets.

Again, conclusions are very hard to draw. First problem is the competition. Second is the fact no Flash played more than 25 minutes in any game. So Kent State was using players and combinations we won’t see a lot in the regular season. And the team had only practiced four hours a week as a team through most of the summer and is in far from regular-season form.

But I’m encouraged.

Replacing what was lost

The Flashes lost only two players to graduate, but Alexa Golden and Merissa Barber-Smith were the teams best defensive players and best rebounders. ]

Golden was on the MAC’s all-defensive team last season and was the heart and voice of KSU’s defense as a four-year starter.

“Are we going to have somebody that’s ready right away to just step in and replace what she gave us?” Starkey asked. “No. But we have people who can play defense.”

Kent State gave up 58.7 points a game on the trip. Throw away the 25 points VK Select scored in a sloppy fourth quarter, and it’s probably closer to 55. KSU gave up 62 points a game last season. Scoring was likely higher on the trip because of international rules that included a 24-second shot clock instead of the 30 the NCAA uses.

Opponents made 36.6% of their shots, about 3 points better than last season.

The Flashes outwhelmed all three teams in rebounding, which isn’t unusual when a Division I team plays a lower division one. The closest margin was 54-44 against the University of British Columbia. It was 54-27 against Vancouver Island. The Flashes averaged 22.3 offensive rebounds.

Their best rebounders were freshmen — Blackford at 7.7 and Shumate at 7.3. Again, that was in less than 25 minutes a game. Shumate had 12 rebounds in one game, Blackford 10 in another. Blackford is 6-foot-2 and Shumate 5-11.

Barber-Smith, who was 6-4, led KSU in rebounding last season at 7.2 in about 17 minutes a game.

“Do we have anybody on the team that’s going to get 17 rebounds the way Merissa did?” Starkey said. “Probably not. But we do have some players who could get 12 and be able to score 12 points.”

Barber-Smith never scored 12 and scored more than five only six times.

The 6-4 center who won’t play

The Flashes do have a legitimate center on their roster. Linsey Marchese, a 6-4 junior transfer from Indiana, has to sit out this season because of NCAA rules. Marchese was the only player besides Dingle to score in double figures all three games, and she seemed to play closer to 15 minutes a game. She made 15 of her 20 shots.

The starters

Kent State used different starting lineups in all three games, and all 13 players on the roster started at least one game.

The University of British Columbia game had probably the closest thing to a true starting lineup the the Flashes as at this early point: Dingle, Carter and Shumate at guards and Thall and Blackford at forward. Senior Ali Poole could be in the mix at either guard or forward, too, but she was hurt and didn’t play on the trip.

The other combinations:

VK Select: Senior Sydney Brinlee at forward junior Monique Smith and junior Margaux Eibel, Dingle and Carter at guard.

Vancouver Island: Marchese at center, sophomore Annie Pavlansky at forward and Kelly with sophomores Mariah Modkins and Hannah Young at guard.

The outlook

I was optimistic about the team, and nothing from the Canada trip dispelled that. The team got extra practice, some game experience and a visit to a beautiful place. Dingle and the freshmen showed more than I had expected, and I knew they were good.

There’s a long time and a long way to go before practice starts in October and the team opens at Duquesne on Nov. 4. But this could be a very good team.

Let’s end with a quote from Dingle from the only game covered by a Vancouver newspaper:

“We’re trying, practicing hard, playing hard,” Dingle said. “We definitely are expecting to do some big things. We hopefully will.”


What we learned from Flashes’ three exhibition wins in Vancouver

Image-1Asiah Dingle in action against Vancouver Island University. Dingle averaged 16.7 points, 6.7 assists and 6.3 steals. (Photo from VIU Twitter feed.)

First, two big qualifiers:

  1. All this is second hand through quotes and statistics. Sadly, I wasn’t on the trip.
  2. The competition wasn’t nearly as tough as the Flashes will face in the MAC this season. (More on that at end of post.)

Dingle ups her game

Asiah Dingle was already one of the Flashes’ best players. The 5-foot-4 point guard from Massachusetts was on the MAC all-freshman team (likely runner-up for freshman of the year) and was KSU’s second leading scorer.  Her aggressive drives to the basketball and her leadership on the fast break were a key factor in Kent’s 20-13 season.

Dingle needed to work on assists, where she averaged 2.3 a game. That’s very low for a point guard. She was second on the team in turnovers and her assist/turnover ratio was 0.8, again very low for a point guard. (The MAC assist leader averaged 6.2 a game; the league’s best assist/turnovers ratio was 2.7).

On the trip, Dingle averaged 6.7 assists per game and had an assist/turnover ratio of 2.1.

“It’s something we’ve been focusing on,” coach Todd Starkey said. “We’re wanting her to really share the ball, making those players around her better.”

Dingle made 21 of 40 shots in the trip (52.5%) and 2 of 8 three-pointers (25%). Her numbers last season were 37% and 18%.

She averaged 6.3 steals a game on the trip. Part of that was the quality of the competition, but it’s still an impressive number. Last season Dingle averaged 2.0, which was eighth in the MAC.

All of my season statistics are conference games only. I’ve found it to be a better indication of ability at the end of the season.)

Three impact freshmen

This year’s freshman class may be just as good as last year’s, which was one of the best in school history. Freshman last season score 44 percent of KSU’s points, led by Dingle’s 13.1 and Lindsay Thall’s 10.7. Kent’s five freshmen averaged a total of 20 points a game. They scored 44% of the teams points — third highest in the country.

On the trip, KSU’s new freshmen averaged 31 points a game.

Katie Shumate, a 5-11 wing from Newark, averaged 12.3 points a game. Her 19 points against the University of British Columbia was the highest total on the trip. She also had 12 rebounds, the most in a game on the trip. She blocked four shots and had five steals. “She impressed me a lot,” senior Megan Carter said. “She has a high motor and just doesn’t stop.”

Nila Blackford, a 6-2 forward from Louisville, led KSU in rebounding with a 7.3 average and scored nine points a game. Half of her rebounds were offensive.

Clare Kelly, a 5-9 guard from Olmsted Falls, made nine of her 18 three-point shots. She scored 12 points against British Columbia, 11 against Vancouver Island University and six against VK Select, a club team.

None of them (or anyone on the roster) played more than 25 minutes a game.

Another way to look at is this: KSU has its top four scorers back from last season. Three of its top five scorers on the trip were incoming freshmen. A fourth was a transfer. Dingle was the fifth. (Senior Ali Poole, fourth on the team in scoring last season, didn’t play on the trip because of an injury suffered in practice in Kent.)

A lot of scoring, a lot of weapons

The Flashes averaged 95.7 points a game. Five players scored in double figures in every game.

Eight different players scored in double figures at least once. Eleven of the 13 players made at least one three pointer.

“It was nice to see multiple players making shots,” Starkey said after the Vancouver Island game. “The versatility of scoring we have is really going to help us.”

Carter said the multiple 3-point shooters allows her and Dingle to drive to the basket with more ease. “It definitely spaces the floor,” she said.

Scores were somewhat inflated by the use of the international 24-second clock (the NCAA’s shot clock is 30) and having just eight seconds (instead of 10) to get the ball over half court.

The 3-point international distance is about 16 inches farther than the NCAA women’s. KSU made 30.8 of its 3-pointers, down about 2 points from last season. But Lindsay Thall, who led the MAC in 3-point percentage last season and who has no problem shooting from any distance, made just 4 of 27. From watching her in practice last week, she should be fine this season.

About the competition

Both university teams the Flashes played had good records last year, but at least the University of British Columbia was missing some of its starters because school wasn’t in session.

I’d guess the competition was along the lines of Division II teams in the U.S. Kent State played two such teams last season and beat them 77-48 and 92-38 — similar margins to their wins in Vancouver.

Still, we can compare the Flashes’ scores to Alabama’s two games against the same competition the previous week. Alabama was 14-17 last season and 11th in the 14-team SEC. Its RPI was 159 of 351 schools. Kent State was 20-13 and fifth in the MAC with an RPI of 83.

Alabama beat VK Select 104-64. Kent State beat them 90-68, though the Flashes led by 38 — almost Alabama’s margin — going into the fourth quarter. KSU beat the University of British Columbia 94-54. Alabama beat them 104-74.

So things were pretty similar between the Flashes and a somewhat below average Power Five school.

Links to stories on the three games, including links to their box scores:

KSU 90, VK Select 69. Nine steals for Dingle. KSU took 38-point lead into fourth quarter.

KSU 94, University of British Columbia 54. All three freshmen scored in double figures, led by Katie Shumate’s 19.

KSU 103, Vancouver Island University 54. Flashes were 13 of 33 from 3-point distances, best of the trip.

I’ve got some other notes on the trip I’ll add tomorrow — things like how some veteran players did, how the team did on correcting last season’s weaknesses, the starting lineups. I’m trying not to have so many very long posts this year.