Flashes get 6-3 Big Ten transfer, add 2nd recruit, a N.J. guard


By Carl Schierhorn

The Kent State women’s basketball team has added a 6-3 transfer from Penn State and received its second verbal commitment from the Class of 2021.


MORE ON THE TEAM: After almost six months, Flashes return to the court.


Bexley Wallace: Pickerington to Penn State to Kent State

Bexley Wallace is a 6-3 post player who Prospect Nation rated the No. 91 prospect in the nation in the class of 2018. She will sit out this season because of NCAA transfer rules.

“She’s a very skilled, savvy and confident post player,” coach Todd Starkey said. “She’s played against some of the best players in the country since she was young.

“Being in the Big Ten for a couple of years, she’s used to a high level of competition. She comes in with a great pedigree and skillset.

In 2015, Wallace was a member of the USA Basketball under-16 national team. That team went 4-1 and won a bronze medal in international competition with other teams from the Americas. A story in the Columbus Dispatch said Wallace was getting interest from college coaches when she was 13.

Wallace’s high school team, Pickerington Central, has one of the strongest programs in Central Ohio. In her senior year, it won the Ohio Division I championship and had four players who went on to Division I basketball.

As best as I know, Wallace is the first Kent State’s first player from Pickerington Central. In Starkey’s last three recruiting classes, he’s brought in players from some of the best high school programs in the state: Solon (junior guard Mariah Modkins), Newark (sophomore guard Katie Shumate) and Bellevue (freshman point guard Casey Santoro). 

Wallace’s statistics in high school and at Penn State weren’t particularly special.

At Penn State, she averaged just over a point and a rebound per game. She started three games over two years and averaged about eight minutes in 51 games. Her best games were six points and five rebounds against Big Ten co-champion Iowa last season and nine points and five rebounds against Florida State in her freshman year.

In high school, she averaged about eight points and seven rebounds over four years. In her freshman year, she averaged a career-best 10.1 points a game. Her junior year she averaged 9.0 rebounds.

“She’s not a feature-scorer type player,” Starkey said. “That’s not what her game or mindset is. She’s balanced in all areas of the game, and that’s what makes her a really strong player.” 

Wallace is Kent State’s second Big Ten transfer in two years. 6-4 post Linsey Marchese joined the Flashes last season after two years at Indiana. She sat out the season because of transfer rules. I’ll be surprised if Marchese is not one of the team’s top rebounders and scorers this year.

Marchese, Wallace, 6-2 junior Lindsay Thall, 6-2 sophomore Nila Blackford and 6-4 freshman Lexi Jackson will give Kent State what likely will be the tallest team in school history. I’ll have a post on the implications of that soon.

Lexy Linton: N.J. guard for the Class of ’21

Kent State’s second verbal commitment for 2021 is 5-8 guard Lexy Linton from Mt. Holly, New Jersey.

Linton, who announced her commitment by Twitter in August, is a bit of an under-the-radar recruit. I didn’t find her on any all-state teams online, nor did I find another Division I offer to her online.  I did see stories saying D1 teams had shown interest. The Courier-Post, one of the larger papers in south Jersey, called her one of the area’s “players to watch in 2019-20.”

She averaged a little less than 15 points a game her sophomore and junior seasons at Rancocas Valley High School. For her senior year, she’ll play for Jackson Memorial High in Ocean City, which went 23-4 last season and reached the state quarterfinals.

Her highlight video is one of the most interesting I’ve seen. The first half dozen plays are all of her stealing the ball or blocking shots. (Most are of players shooting.) Linton has long arms and looks very quick. She’s reminiscent of Alexa Golden, Kent State’s director of basketball operations who led the KSU defense for her four years as a player.

In an interview online, she said she sees herself as a point guard, but it’s clear from her video she could also play shooting guard or wing.

Linton’s father, Garry, is the founder of TakeFlight Basketball, which runs basketball skills and training clinics in New Jersey. Lexy is featured a number of his training videos. 

Kent State coaches can’t comment on recruits until they have signed a letter of intent in November.

Earlier in the summer, 6-3 post player Bridget Dunn of Carmel High School outside Indianapolis became KSU’s first 2021 commit. Dunn averaged 12.3 points and 9.9 rebounds as a junior and made the state basketball coaches association’s 15-member all-junior team in 2020.

Here’s the post on Dunn after her commitment.

The recruiting trail

Starkey said his staff is still recruiting.

“We’ve got two scholarships available, and we’re still working,” he said.

A majority of top prospects have made verbal commitments, but many teams are still looking for players. Ball State, Buffalo, Central Michigan, Northern Illinois, Ohio and Toledo also have two recruits who have committed publicly. Western Michigan, Akron and Bowling Green each have three, and Eastern Michigan four. Typical size of a class is three or four.

It’s been a hard recruiting season for Starkey and other coaches.

Recruiting been in an NCAA “dead period” since COVID-19 shut down college basketball in March. That means that coaches can’t go to off-campus events like AAU Tournaments, can’t do home visits with recruits or can’t have recruits visit them on campus officially or unofficially.

So coaches have been working entirely by phone and online. One out-of-state KSU recruit posted a screenshot of her talking with the four Kent coaches, her and her parents.

Coaches build a list of potential recruits three or four classes out and had seen many players before last March. Kent State, for example, offered Indiana commit Dunn a scholarship in summer 2019. I’m sure they had seen her in AAU or high school games.

But players who recently came to a school’s attention have been evaluated only through video and phone calls to them and their coaches.

Many AAU tournament operators, who in normal charge visiting college coaches hundreds of dollars in fees, this year streamed games on video — and charged coaches for access to the feeds. Most players have highlight videos online; a recruiter can usually get full-game video from a high school or AAU coach.

But it’s pretty unlikely that KSU coaches had ever seen Linton, the guard from New Jersey, in person.

In-person observation makes a difference. Starkey and Associate Head Coach Fran Recchia told KentWired’s Kathryn Rajnicek last spring that they like to look at things you can’t see on video — how players act during warmups and after a game, how they act on the bench, how they react when they’re taken out of a game.

A father of a Texas all-state guard KSU had been recruiting heavily complained about the NCAA rule on Twitter in summer, saying how difficult it was to evaluate a school long distance. (His daughter eventually chose Abilene Christian in Texas.)

“It’s been very, very challenging,” Starkey said. “I think it’s more challenging for the recruits and their parents — to be able to try to make an informed decision when not being able to go to campus and talk to coaches and players in person. We’ve been on so many Zoom calls. You try to simulate as much of that as you can, but it’s just not the same.”

At last, Flashes are back on the court together

The team after it beat Ohio last March to clinch a tie for the MAC East title.

By Carl Schierhorn

COVID-19 had kept the Kent State women’s basketball team apart for more than five months.

This week they’re back on the court together.

Through AAU and instructional leagues, most players had been in organized basketball almost year-round since they were in elementary school. Coaches, too.

Not since I was a kid have I gone five months without basketball,” coach Todd Starkey said in an interview last week.

For the players, “it was tough,” the coach said. “We had conversations with them via Zoom and FaceTime and phone calls every week, touching base and talking with them about mental and physical health.

“They tried to work out on their own. Some had access to weights, some didn’t. Some players had access to baskets. It was challenging, but I think that by and large, they all handled it fairly well. They’re glad to have that phase of it behind them, at least for the time being.”

When the NCAA approved a Nov. 25 start to games last week, they also approved an expanded preseason workout schedule. Until formal practice starts Oct. 10, teams can spend 12 hours a week on strength and conditioning, team meetings and on-court drills. In previous seasons (and this fall before this week), it had been eight hours with severe limitations on on-court activities.

The Flashes, like all Kent State teams, returned to campus weeks later than at many other MAC schools, apparently because KSU safety protocols were more stringent than at other places.

Players started with a COVID test when they returned to campus. (All passed.) Then the team used a four-tier system of “re-entry,” as Starkey called it.

First, one player worked with one coach. Then the team was split into “pods,” where a small group players lived and worked out together. That would have allowed easier contact tracing if someone became infected or was exposure to the virus. Then the size of the pods was increased. Finally, all team members and coaches could work together.

“We’ve been very deliberate and gradual in bringing them back to basketball movements, and coaching and terminology,” Starkey said. “It’s been a process.”

Reworking the schedule

The team had essentially finished its schedule of games before the NCAA moved the start of the season two-and-a-half weeks later.

Starkey isn’t exactly starting over, but there’s work to do.

“There’s a lot of questions that we have to get answers for before we can even start to piece together what Nov. 25 to conference play is going to look like,” Starkey said. “It’s a complicated puzzle.

“We’ve just now reached out today to try and figure out some of those pieces. And we’re waiting to hear back on contract situations. It’s a bit of a mess.

The NCAA is limiting teams to 28 regular season games if they play in a multi-team tournament. Last season the limit was 31.

The MAC will play a 20-game conference schedule, leaving a maximum of eight non-conference games. Starkey doesn’t think his schedule will have that many.

Two opponents have already backed out of games. The Flashes were scheduled to play at Ohio State, a return trip from OSU’s visit to the M.A.C. Center last season. But Starkey doesn’t know if that game going to happen. He said he has no plans at this point for a multi-team tournament, though “nothing is off the table.”

“I don’t think we’ll get to 27,” he said. “We’ll probably have four or five non-conference games.

No Kent State Classic

The event in which Akron and Kent State played the same teams over two days won’t happen this year. It’s not because of the change in NCAA scheduling rules.

“We’re having trouble getting two teams to commit because we both continued to get better,” Starkey said. “When we both weren’t quite as good, everybody wanted to play us. Now it’s harder to get people to come in and play us back to back.”

The idea of the event was to alternate between Kent State and Akron, where it was the “Akron Classic.” Last season the Flashes and Zips played Michigan and Purdue Fort Wayne in Akron. The year before Northern Kentucky and Oakland plays Akron and Kent at the M.A.C.C.

No basketball on Election Day

The NCAA Division I Council last week also decided that teams can’t play or practice on Election Day, Nov. 3. It’s a move Starkey strongly endorses.

“We were going to do it anyway,” the coach said. “We’ll have 100% voter registration on our staff and team within a week.

“That’s something we’re really focused on, talking with our team about being proactive and involved on educating yourself. We’re not telling them what to think. That’s on them. We’re just providing them the opportunity to get out and vote, for sure.”

It’s official: Nov. 25 start for college basketball

The Kent State women’ celebrate their first-round win over Buffalo in the MAC Tournament. That was March 11, the last
game the team played before the COVID-19 pandemic ended the season. (KentWired photo by John Conley.)

College basketball games can start on Wednesday, Nov. 25, the day before Thanksgiving.

The NCAA Division I Council Wednesday approved the date for men’s and women’s basketball.

Games aren’t required to start then; it’s just the earliest teams can play.

Practice will start on Oct. 14, with 30 practices allowed before the season. Teams can up to 12 hours a week of strength and conditioning, team meetings, and team and individual drills between Sept. 21 and Oct. 13.

Women’s teams can schedule 23 regular-season games, plus one multiple-team event of up to four games. Without the multi-team even, they can schedule 25 games without a multiple-team event. Last season teams could play 27 games. Kent State played 29. Men’s team can play one more game.

“Teams tend to play an average of two games a week, so the fact we’re shortening the season necessitated the reduction in games so we’re trying to jam more in a shortened season,” said M. Grace Calhoun, Division I council chair and Penn athletic director.

The council recommended teams play at least four non-conference games.

Teams have to play a minimum of 13 games, seven fewer than previous years. Some schools have discussed playing a very abbreviated schedule to limit exposure to COVID-19 and for financial reasons.

Teams won’t be allowed to have preseason exhibition games or scrimmages. Kent State had two scrimmages against Division I opponents last season. In 2018, they had an exhibition against a Division II team and a scrimmage.

The later start is designed to limit athletes exposure to the COVID-19 virus.

The NCAA men’s and women’s basketball committees had recommenced a Nov. 21 start. But the council decided on Nov. 25, when almost three-quarters of schools will finished on-campus classes.

Kent State is one of them. Classes and exams will be completely online after Thanksgiving. With classes online, student athletes can study from anywhere.

With many fewer students in town, athletes would be less likely to interact with others who might be infected.

The start date is three weeks later than the Kent State women’s team first game last season.

“The new season start date near the Thanksgiving holiday provides the optimal opportunity to successfully launch the season,” said Dan Gavitt, NCAA senior vice president of basketball, as quoted by ESPN. “It is a grand compromise of sorts that focuses on the health and safety of student-athletes.”

National media outlets have consistently reported that more multi-team events in an NBA-like “bubble” format are likely. In those, multiple teams — perhaps as many as 20 — could play at a single site with a controlled environment and heavy COVID testing.

ESPN has said it could host four such events at its Orlando site, where the NBA has played.

The later start leaves about five weeks for non-conference games. 

Kent State likely will announce its non-conference schedules in the next few weeks. I’m sure KSU coaches already have had discussions with prospective opponents and tournaments.

MAC play for KSU’s women will start on Wednesday, Dec. 30, at Toledo. (Link to Kent women’s MAC schedule.) The Kent State men will open at Eastern Michigan on Saturday, Jan. 2. (KSU hasn’t posted its men’s MAC schedule, but the full MAC men’s schedule is here.)

The NCAA tournament is still set for 68 teams and 14 sites in March and April, although there has been unofficial discussion of consolidating the sites into “bubbles.”

No off-campus recruiting for rest of 2020

The D1 Council also extended the recruiting “dead period” through Jan. 1. There has been a dead period in place since March, with no official campus visits, no home visits by coaches, nor coaches’ going to AAU games or team practices during that time.

This extension that some coaches and high school players won’t be able to have face-to-face contact with coaches before students can formally commit to a school in the Nov. 11-18 early signing period. Nor will some coaches have ever seen some players in live competition.

Telephone and online contact is allowed. And many coaches saw players in AAU games when they were younger. Recruits also made unofficial visits in pre-COVID times.

“While the Council acknowledged and appreciates the growing desire to resume in-person recruiting,” Calhoun said. “council members ultimately concluded the primary concern right now must be protecting the current student-athletes on our campuses,”

A Thanksgiving-week start for basketball?

Flashes celebrate after clinching MAC East co-championship with win over Ohio last season. There will be no divisional championships for anyone this year. The MACwill play as a single 12-team league this season. It had been the last Division I conference with divisions,

Updated with revised date.

Circle the date: Nov. 21.

That’s could be the opening day of the 2020-21 basketball season.

Reports from several national outlets Monday said the NCAA Division I committee is poised to approve at that date, which is the Saturday before Thanksgiving. The council is scheduled to vote on the idea Wednesday. Here’s Monday story from cbssports.com.

The Nov. 21 date, four days earlier than an earlier proposal, is about two-and-a-half weeks later the first game in previous (pre-COVID-19) seasons. The delay allows schools to start games after most universities have emptied campuses for the fall.

As at many other schools, Kent State classes and exams will be completely online after Thanksgiving. With classes online, student athletes can study from anywhere.

With almost no other students in town, athletes would be less likely to interact with others who might be infected.

NCAA officials thought the earlier date could allow more multi-team events in an NBA-like “bubble” format, CBS reported. In those, multiple teams — perhaps as many as 20 — could play at a single site with a controlled environment and heavy COVID testing.

The later start leaves about five weeks for non-conference games.

Because of the uncertainly, Kent State hasn’t announced a non-conference schedule for either men’s or women’s basketball.

With the MAC going to a 20-game schedule (see below), the Flashes likely will have up to eight non-conference games. We’re likely to know a lot more in a few days.

All this, of course, assumes there is not another COVID-related shutdown of some kind.

The MAC schedule

Kent State starts the Mid-American Conference season at Toledo on Wednesday, Dec. 30.

The 20-game MAC season is up from 18 in past years. That’s a home-and-home series with all but two other teams.

There will be no divisions. The top eight teams will advance to the conference tournament in Cleveland in March. There will be no first-round tournament games on conferences sites.

The new conference schedule is designed to cut down on travel costs and virus exposure in commercial travel.

The schedule has no bye weeks. All teams play every Wednesday and Saturday for 10 weeks.

After the opener with Toledo, the Flashes play at Eastern Michigan on Saturday, Jan. 2. The team is likely to stay on the road. Toledo and Eastern are less than an hour apart, and KSU will still be on winter break.

Home opener is Wednesday, Jan. 6, against Northern Illinois, followed by a home game against Ball State on Saturday, Jan. 10.

The Ball State game is the only meeting of the season with the Cardinals, which finished second in the MAC last season. Kent State also play defending MAC champion Central Michigan only once. That game is Saturday, Feb. 13, in Mount Pleasant.

The Flashes end with a home game against Akron on Saturday, March 6. It will be the first time KSU has ended the regular season against the Zips since 2011. The league tournament will start the next Wednesday.

Kent State’s conference schedule

(Times to be announced)

  • Wednesday, Dec. 30. At Toledo.
  • Saturday, Jan. 2. At Eastern Michigan. 
  • Wednesday, Jan. 6. Northern Illinois.             
  • Saturday, Jan. 9. Ball State.                
  • Wednesday Jan. 13. At Akron.            
  • Saturday, Jan. 16. Western Michigan.               
  • Wednesday Jan. 20. Toledo.            
  • Saturday, Jan 23. At Northern Illinois.
  • Wednesday Jan. 27. At Buffalo.
  • Saturday, Jan 30. Eastern Michigan.
  • Wednesday, Feb. 3. At Ohio.
  • Saturday, Feb. 6. Miami
  • Wednesday, Feb. 10. Bowling Green.
  • Saturday, Feb. 13. At Central Michigan.
  • Wednesday, Feb. 17. At Western Michigan.
  • Saturday, Feb 20. Ohio.
  • Wednesday, Feb. 24. Buffalo.
  • Saturday, Feb. 27. At Miami.
  • Wednesday, March 3. At Bowling Green.
  • Saturday, March 6. Akron.            

Flashes’ first 2021 recruit is a top forward from Indiana

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Bridget Dunn with KSU coaches on a pre-COVID 19 recruiting visit to Kent State. (Photo from her AAU team’s Twitter feed.)

Kent State’s first recruit from the class of 2021 is one of the best junior forwards in Indiana.

She is 6-1 Bridget Dunn, who averaged 12.3 points and 9.9 rebounds for Carmel High School last season. The Indianapolis Star’s top prep writer listed her as one of 10 candidates for next season’s Miss Basketball in Indiana. Dunn made the state basketball coaches association’s 15-member all-junior team in 2020. (Indiana names a senior all-state team and a junior all-state team. Above each is a “Supreme 15.”)

Dunn announced though her high school team’a  Twitter feed earlier this month that she had verbally committed to Kent State, which had offered her a scholarship last summer. KSU coaches can’t comment on recruits until they sign a national letter of intent in November.

Here’s what Matthew VanTryon, who writers an “insider” column for the Star, said about Dunn in his list of Miss Basketball candidates:

“Dunn took a big step forward for Carmel during her junior season, averaging 12.3 points and 9.9 rebounds per game while shooting 47% from the floor and 90% from the line. The Greyhounds have a wealth of young talent returning, meaning Dunn figures to have a chance to have strong numbers and plenty of wins on her résumé.”

Dunn’s Carmel team was ranked 14th in the state and finished last season at 15-8 against what the Star described as one of the toughest schedules in the state. Carmel, a consistent power in Indiana basketball, started at 3-6 but won 12 of its last 14.

Dunn averaged 12.3 points, 9.9 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 1.4 steals and 1.8 blocks last season. according to MaxPreps, a recurring service.

Counting Dunn, the Flashes will have as many as five scholarships available for the 2021-22 season. They have three open now; reserve forward Monique Smith and reserve guard Margaux Eibel will graduate after next season.

No transfer rule change this season

A month ago, the NCAA looked on the verge of approving a rule that would allow football, men’s and women’s basketball, baseball and hockey players to transfer once without having to sit out a season.

The NCAA’s transfer waiver working group, chaired by MAC Commissioner Jon Steinbrecher, had been expected to bring the proposal to the Division I Council in May.

Instead, the council pushed any decision on transfer changes to January, saying that the COVID-19 pandemic had made things too unsettled for such a major change at this time. It asked for suggestions from members for suggestions

Currently athletes in every sport except basketball. football, baseball and hockey are allowed to transfer and play immediately. The exception was to prevent the rosters of the most prestigious sports being shuffled every season.

But still athletes still transferred. Currently there are more than 800 men’s basketball players and more than 400 women in the NCAA’s transfer portal, which notifies coaches a player is seeking a transfer. A portion of those are “graduate transfers,” players who have finished their undergraduate degrees. They are eligible immediately while they work on a masters degree (which many athletes never finish).

Athletes are also eligible to play immediately if they received a “hardship” waiver, often based on a perceived need to move closer to home. Asiah Dingle, who transferred from Kent State to Stony Brook, said a large part of her decision was based on a desire to be closer to her father in Boston. He has had several strokes. Dingle has said she would seek a hardship waiver.

But some coaches have argued that hardship transfer rules has been applied unevenly, especially in the case of high-profile players and programs. 

Steinbrecher acknowledged that in February in discussing his working group’s charge.

““The current system is unsustainable,” he said. “Working group members believe it’s time to bring our transfer rules more in line with today’s college landscape. More than a third of all college students transfer at least once, and the Division I rule prohibiting immediate competition for students who play five sports hasn’t discouraged them from transferring.

“This dynamic has strained the waiver process, which was designed to handle extenuating and extraordinary circumstances.

Student-athletes in truth

A record-tying six Kent State players made the MAC all-academic team announced earlier this spring. Here’s the list and their cumulative GPAs and majors, according to the MAC release announcing the team.

  • Senior Sydney Brinlee, 3.449, Communication Studies.
  • Sophomore Asiah Dingle, 3.319, Criminal Justice. (Dingle has since transferred to Stony Brook.)
  • Sophomore Mariah Modkins, 3.557, Fashion Merchandising.
  • Sophomore Annie Pavlansky, 4.00, Middle Childhood Education. (She was one of four players among the 56 on the team to have a perfect GPA.)
  • Sophomore Lindsey Thall, 3.422, Biology/Pre-Med.
  • Sophomore Hannah Young, 3.799, Physical Education.

The group includes Kent State’s entire recruiting class of 2018, which also was one of the best group of athletes ever to enter in the same year.

Only eight KSU players were eligible for all-academic honors. Freshmen (the Flashes had three) aren’t eligible. Senior Ali Poole, a biology major who was an all-MAC academic selection in 2018 and 2019, was injured and didn’t play enough games to qualify. Neither did junior Margaux Eibel, a fashion design major who played sparingly.

To qualify for the team, a player needs to have a 3.2 cumulative GPA and play in at least half a team’s games.

Northern Illinois had eight players on the team. Ball State, Bowling Green, Central Michigan and Miami joined Kent State with six.

MAC basketball drops 1st round of tournament, goes to 20-game season

MAC logo

The Mid-American conference announced Tuesday that it was going to a 20-game conference basketball schedule. It also is eliminating the first round of the MAC tournament, which had been played on campus sites.

The league had been playing an 18-game schedules in men’s and women’s basketball.  At the end of the regular season, the top four teams got byes to the quarterfinals of the league tournaments. The other eight teams played first-round games on the home floor of the lower seed. (The 12th seed played at the fifth seed, 11th seed at the sixth seed. etc.)

Other changes announced by the MAC included elimination of postseason tournaments in eight sports. Postseason events would be reduced in seven other sports.

The new schedules would go into effect in the 2020-21 seasons and would last for at least four years. The league said that could change based on changes in school and league finances.

The changes, a MAC press release said, were designed to save money lost because of the Covid-19 pandemic. Almost every MAC school has announced cuts in athletic budgets, ranging from 10% to 20%. Other than salary reductions, few teams have released details of the cuts.

The new plan was created by a working group including athletic directors, other sports administrators, faculty and students. League athletic directors approved the final version.

The first report of the changes, based on an interview with MAC Commissioner Jon Steinbrecher with Toledo television statement WTOL, also said the conference was eliminating divisions in men’s and women’s basketball. But the MAC press release made no mention of that.

The MAC was the last conference in the country to have divisions in basketball. Its divisions were for scheduling convenience as much as anything.

MAC basketball had been split into East and West divisions of six teams, based on geography. Teams played two games against divisional opponents, one game against four teams in the other division, and two games against two teams in the other division. The home-and-home cross-division opponents were based on team’s previous year’s conference record.

Details of a 20-game schedule weren’t released. If saving on travel is the main purpose, it’s logical that teams on the edges of the conference — Buffalo, Kent State, Akron and Ohio in the East and Northern Illinois, Western Michigan, Central Michigan and Ball State in the West — would play less.

Elimination of divisions won’t have much practical effect on conference standings. Except in rare instances, divisional records mean nothing in seedings for the conference tournament, which are based on overall conference record.

Two more league games means that non-conference games played at a greater distance — like Ohio’s two-game road trip to Texas last season — could be eliminated. So might holiday tournaments like Kent State and Toledo’s trip to Las Vegas last Christmas and Bowling Green’s trip to a California tournament.

Teams had been playing 10 or 11 non-conference games. Now that will be nine or 10. 

The conference schedule is usually is announced in early fall. Non-conference games usually were announced in mid-to-late summer.

This is all assuming universities and sports go ahead with relatively normal seasons next year. Most universities hope to reopen in fall. A major second wave of Covid-19 in summer or fall could shut down campuses again. And most schools have said that if the full student body isn’t on campus, there will be no sports.

Changes in other sports

The MAC said that postseason tournaments in baseball, softball field hockey, men’s and women’s soccer, men’s and women’s tennis and women’s lacrosse would be eliminated for up to four years, depending on finances. Regular-season champions would advance to NCAA tournaments.

Baseball and softball teams would play a 30-game schedules. They had been playing 26.

The league volleyball tournament would be cut from eight to four teams. The length of postseason tournaments and meets in swimming, track and golf would be cut, mostly by one day.

Wrestling and gymnastics will continue to hold postseason championships. The MAC football championship, which matches divisional winners, won’t change.

“It’s a lot to unpack,” KSU athletics director Joel Nielsen said in an interview with the Record-Courier’s Allen Moff. “The changes affect every program in the MAC equally.

“There are too many (changes) to comment specifically, but our student-athletes and fans will see more games being played between MAC schools in almost every program, with more home games in some sports. The regular season conference finish will now be the goal in several sports due to the championship event being removed.”

 

 

A pandemic offseason: How women’s basketball adjusts to a new normal

Team on Zoom

The team’s first online meeting (from their Twitter feed).

By Kathryn Rajnicek

KentWired sports reporter

Associate head coach Fran Recchia spends much of her time these days at her kitchen table, searching for future Flashes.

“At least two hours a day,” she said, “watching film or highlights or calling coaches.”

Freshman forward Nila Blackford starts each morning practicing yoga on a mat on her deck in Louisville, Kentucky.

“I do it to wake my body up, stretch, work on my flexibility and ease my mind,” Blackford said.

Sophomore guard Hannah Young has packed and carried box after box to her family’s new home.

“They were pretty heavy boxes and furniture,” Young said. “I lifted about 25 things a day when we were moving.”

In a world where the coronavirus keeps people at home, offseason activities take place in basements, bedrooms and driveways. Recchia, Blackford, Young and the rest of the women’s basketball team are recruiting, training and connecting in ways they never imagined.

“This is an unprecedented thing for anybody in our lifetimes,” coach Todd Starkey said.

Recruiting from the kitchen

To help try to prevent the spread of the virus, the NCAA banned coaches from visiting players and players from visiting campus. High school basketball tournaments and spring AAU basketball were canceled, so coaches haven’t seen prospective players in person since at least March.

“Everybody’s trying to be creative right now,” Starkey said. “We are using social media and FaceTime with current high school juniors.”

Most seniors have already signed with colleges; coaches are not allowed to contact high school freshmen and sophomores.

When Starkey talks to prospective players, the conversation doesn’t often start with basketball.

“We’re interested in the whole person whether this [the coronavirus] is going on or not,” Starkey said. “We want to know what motivates them and what’s important to them. Those are probably the first things we talk about on calls, then we move into basketball.”

When Recchia evaluates tape, she prefers watching full games instead of highlights.

“You can see them on both sides of the ball,” Recchia said. “You can see how they respond to mistakes on the defensive end, or after turning the ball over, or missing a shot, or being subbed out.”

It’s still not the same as being at a game.

“When you’re there in person, everything’s just a bit clearer,” Recchia said. “You can see how they are when they’re receiving tough coaching, their eye contact and response to their coach.”

She also watches what players do after the game is over.

“Are they helping pick up the bench? Are they the first ones out? Are the parents carrying their bags?” she said. “Things like that you don’t really get to see on film.”

Recchia spends a lot of time talking to coaches about a player’s strengths and weaknesses — but also emphasizing what kind of person they are.

“You rely on a lot of relationships with their coaches,” Recchia said.

Usually, Kent State will not offer a player a scholarship solely based off of video.

In normal circumstances, that almost never happens,” Starkey said. “We’re looking at more video, but it doesn’t mean that getting video from recruits is going to lead us to offering just because we see a player have a good highlight tape.

“It’s more involved in that. It’s understanding who a player is, how they react to adversity, how they react to coaching, those different types of things. It’s certainly not a simple process.

“In a situation like this, we are starting to get involved with some players we’ve only seen on film. That may need to be the case at least in the short term.”

Training at home: Using what’s available

With stay-at-home orders in effect, players cannot go to gyms or work out in groups.

“I’ve been going on runs in the parks that are open,” sophomore Lindsey Thall said. “The training staff gave us some ball-handling drills.”

Sophomore Mariah Modkins works out two to three times a day.

“I do cardio, weight lifting, some basketball and boxing,” Modkins said. “I just make the most that I can with the resources I have.

“One of the things that comes with being a student athlete is self-motivation. You know what you need and how to adapt to what your body is telling you. You know if you need more rest or extra workouts.”

Blackford started practicing yoga as a unique way to stay in shape.

“It’s something active, and I can’t just sit around all day,” Blackford said. “I’ve also been doing things like running and weight lifting to help maintain overall strength and endurance.”

Kent State’s training staff has sent out some home workouts to help the players that do not have access to a lot of equipment.

“The workouts include a lot of body-weight and using dumbbells,” Young said. “It’s a lot of lunges, squats, push-ups, pull-ups and core-type workouts.”

The workouts compensate for lack of equipment with more repetitions.

“It’s been a lot of body-weight workouts for strength,” Thall said. “They have us do more reps instead of higher weights because a lot of us don’t have home gyms.

Keeping busy: Quarantine style

Mostly, the players are like other students. They do school work and try to entertain themselves.

For many, having all online classes is an adjustment.

“It’s really easy for you to be like, ‘All right, I’m just going to hold off on this and push it to tomorrow,’” Blackford said, “because you aren’t forced to go to class and do the whole face-to-face type of interaction. Online is definitely more challenging, but it’s still class and still a priority you need to have.”

Young, a physical education major, doesn’t think some of her classes work as well online.

“A lot of my classes are based on participation and take place in a gym,” Young said. “My professors have had to change the whole curriculum and figure out a way to put it online. It’s been a lot of lectures and essays, so it’s a lot more time consuming.”

Redshirt senior Megan Carter finished her degree in December and had been taking classes to keep her eligibility.

“It’s a little hard to stay focused,” Carter said. “I am taking ‘unnecessary’ classes, so it’s a little hard. But I just have to finish strong in these last few weeks.”

Netflix is a popular diversion.

“I’ve watched Rhythm + Flow and All American,” Blackford said. “I just watch whatever looks good. Sometimes I watch basketball and other sports reruns.”

“I watched Tiger King,” Young said. “I’m not really into documentaries, but my friends told me, ‘You have to watch this.’ By the end of it I was thinking, ‘Everyone’s just crazy.’

Keeping in touch from a distance

In early April, the team posted a TikTok video, which begins with Thall and freshman guard Clare Kelly shopping in a grocery cart like an old Chef Boyardee commercial.

“As a kid I always used to watch that commercial,” Thall said. “Clare and I thought it would be a great idea to incorporate basketball into it.”

So the ball bounces off a shelf and down the aisle after they walk by. Then it cuts to Modkins chasing it down the street while spraying Lysol on it, then other players follow it down streets, through fields and on beaches until it bounces back to Thall and Kelly unloading their groceries.

The players miss each other.

“They are some of your closest friends because you are with them every single day,” Thall said. “So it’s completely different not being able to see them.”

So the players keep in touch electronically.

“We have a group chat that we’re always talking with each other through,” Young said. “We talk about how to do certain workouts and what everyone is up to. We’re a pretty close team, so it’s not too hard to stay in touch.”

This week marked the start of online team meetings through Zoom.

“I’m so used to seeing them in person, so it was different seeing them on a computer screen,” Blackford said. “It was good to be able to see and connect with everyone.”

The meetings are used as a time to catch up.

“It’s nice to see everybody’s face in the same place,” Starkey said. “It’s a lot of information sharing, talking about their off-season workout schedule, encouraging them to finish strong academically and looking at what a summer schedule might look like. We give them an opportunity to ask questions and be together when we’re apart.

The coaching staff also tries to talk to the players individually each week.

“We check in to see how they’re doing, how their family is doing and their mindset right now,” Recchia said. “We talk very little about basketball. It’s different times for everyone, so we are trying to help them process it and find their new normal.”

Cutbacks, schedule changes are probably ahead for KSU (and all college) sports

KSU logo

An online post by Athletic Director Joel Nielsen today gave hints about possible budget cuts and schedule changes ahead for Kent State and the MAC.

From the post:

“As athletic departments plan and prepare for the road ahead, many in our industry have said, ‘College sports as we know it will never be the same.’

“While I tend to agree, it doesn’t mean that college sports won’t still be able to provide the opportunities and entertainment it’s been providing for over a century.

“Keeping that in mind, athletic departments will face difficult decisions in figuring out how to operate with less money. Staff sizing, travel restrictions, schedule modifications, and other budget reductions are logical options.

“Those decisions even become more difficult if the pandemic affects our fall sports. There is also uncertainty as to when the economy will be ‘reopened’ and how quickly it will rebound. That will affect fundraising, corporate sponsorships, ticket sales, merchandise sales, etc.

“At the direction of the MAC President’s Council, and under the leadership of Commissioner Jon Steinbrecher, the conference has been working on modifications to schedules, championships and other items.

“The recommendations will be reviewed and discussed over the next couple of weeks, and then shared with our students, staff and supporters.”

The University of Arizona, a far richer school than Kent State, is projecting a $7.5 million shortfall in athletic revenue. It is freezing all athletic spending, hiring and raises. Cuts in salaries, programs and scholarships are possible. (The measure were  announced in a memo that was leaked to USA Today.)

Cincinnati announced Wednesday it was eliminating men’s soccer as a cost-cutting measure.

Earlier Wisconsin said that even though the NCAA had granted current seniors in spring sports an extra year of eligibility, it wouldn’t be able to afford scholarships for them.

Tough times ahead — for sports and the rest of us.

In the national news

I just starting subscribing to a site called CollegeAD.com. Here’s a link to some of today’s news, including a item on how the Group of Five is asking the NCAA for permission to cut back on sports and scholarships. Its worth a look (and following, if you’re interested in this kind of them.)

The NightCap | Q&AD: G5 ADs Talk NCAA Distributions

Up in the air

There are so many things unclear about what’s ahead for sports at Kent State and elsewhere. It certainly will be a long time before we get to any kind of new normal. The state will start to “reopen” sometime this summer. But it’s very likely it will be gradual, with fits and starts.

  • Almost all sports have summer workouts. For example, all women’s basketball players, including incoming freshmen, usually have been on campus when summer school starts. The NCAA allows basketball teams to train and practice a total of 10 hours a week.

All Kent State summer classes are online. The university has announced there will be no campus activities until at least July 4. Does that mean summer workouts are dead? (I’d guess yes. Maybe something will happen in August if the “reopening” goes smoothly.)

  • I’ve seen all sorts of speculation on the football season. It’s hard to imagine public health officials approving of 100,000 fans together in a Power 5 stadium (or 20,000 in a MAC stadium) in the first week of September. That’s especially true if there’s no proven treatment by then. (There almost certainly won’t be a vaccine until 2021.)

Could teams play in an empty stadium? Will practice be able to start on time in August? Would it be safe for 150 players, coaches and staff to be in the same place? How do you practice “social distancing” in an athletic practice?

I’ve seen stories speculating that the Big Ten might cut the football season to only conference games to save on travel. I’ve seen stories wondering whether football might be postponed to spring.

(I’m pretty sure that as football goes, so will other fall sports like soccer, field hockey and volleyball.)

  • Some universities have begun discussion on whether campuses should remain closed and online classes might continue for the fall semester. If so, what happens to winter sports, all of which start official practice in October? Teams could be on campus — if the state and university deem it safe — to practice and take classes online.

But would universities allow that? Even if it were safe, could sports go on when on-campus group academic activities like musical and theater groups and science labs are suspended? Some classes simply can’t be taught remotely any more than a team can practice online.

I’m sure discussions on all these points and more are going on at Kent State and every other university in the country.

 

Dingle lands at Stony Brook, which went 28-3 and won its conference last season

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The image Asiah Dingle tweeted when she announced that she was headed to Stony Brook University on Long Island. She wore No. 3 at Kent State.

Former Kent State guard Asiah Dingle announced on Twitter Monday that she would join the women’s team at Stony Brook University, last season’s American East Conference champions.

Dingle, who was KSU’s leading scorer last season, said last week she was transferring from Kent State. She scored 785 points in her two seasons with the Flashes.


ANALYSIS: What Asiah Dingle meant to Kent State and what next season looks like without her.


Stony Brook went 28-3 last season, the best record in school history. The Seawolves were ranked 12th in the final Mid-Major Top 25 by CollegeInsider.com.

Dingle spoke publicly for the first time about the transfer in an interview with Boston Globe correspondent Greg Levinsky posted Tuesday.

The primary reason, she said, was the health of her father.

Most important, she said was “being closer to my family. In case anything happens to him, I’ll be able to come home right away.

“Besides that, [Kent State] wasn’t really a good fit for me. I love the people there, though, especially my teammates.”

Stony Brook on the north shore of Long Island, about 250 miles from Boston, about a four-hour drive. Kent is about 630 miles from Dingle’s home.

Dingle said she planned to apply for a hardship waiver to NCAA transfer rules to become immediately eligible to play for the Seawolves. The NCAA currently requires transfers to sit out a year. Such a waiver can be granted for an illness or other need to be near home.

The NCAA is actively studying on a “one-time transfer” rule that would allow any player to transfer once in her career and immediately be eligible to play. Some observers have speculated that a decision could come in May and that the one-time transfer could go into effect this summer.

If she’s eligible, Dingle should have a chance to move immediately into the starting lineup. Last year’s starter at point guard was Kalea Haire, a graduate transfer from Seton Hall. A second-team all-conference selection, she was second on the team in scoring and led it in assists.

The Globe story said Dingle was impressed that Stony Brook head coach Caroline McCombs reached out to her directly once Dingle put her name in the transfer portal.

“It’s a family atmosphere,” Dingle said.

On Monday, Stony Brook gave McCombs a contract extension through the 2024-25 season.

 

 

Asiah Dingle had a huge impact on the KSU program and the MAC in 2 years

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Asiah Dingle scored 785 points in her first two years, tied for fifth all-time for Kent State. (Photo by John Conley from KentWired.)

This post is more analysis than Thursday’s story about Asiah Dingle’s decision to transfer from Kent State women’s basketball team, which was a pretty straight report on the situation.

Asiah Dingle made a huge difference in her two years in a KSU uniform. She was the spark of coach Todd Starkey’s outstanding 2018 recruiting class. In her first year, she gave the Flashes a scoring threat at point guard we haven’t seen since Dawn Zerman, MAC player of the year in 2000.

I can’t imagine Kent State winning 20 games last season and 19 this year without her.

Her ability to drive the basketball changed Kent State’s offense. When the Flashes rallied in the second half to win their first-ever WNIT game last season, Green Bay had no answer. Her quick hands on defense could turn a game. At Akron this season, she had a steal and basket, then stole the inbounds pass and scored again in a sequence that changed the course of the game.

This season she came off the bench for her last 11 games and played the best basketball of her career. She made 54% of her shots in that time; in her freshman year, she made 37%. Her play was critical to Kent State’s late run that gave them a tie for the MAC East title and the third seed in the conference tournament.


Dingle announced Sunday that she would attend Stony Brook University on Long Island, which went 28-3 last season and won the American East Conference.


Only a technicality kept her from being the MAC’s sixth player of the year. To qualify, a player needs to start fewer than half of her team’s games. Dingle started 15 of the 28 games she played in. The winner of the award, Central Michigan’s Gabrielle Bird, averaged 8.6 points a game. Dingle averaged 13.3.

She averaged 12.8 points her freshman season. That was more than the freshman average of all but four of Kent State’s 1,000-point scorers, including Larissa Lurken, Jordan Korinek, Lindsay Shearer, Julie Studer and Dawn Zerman. Her 785 points tied Zerman for fifth in points scored in two years.

Dingle had her flaws. Her sometimes out-of-control play (“reckless turnovers,” Starkey said after one victory) could drive coaches and fans crazy. Fouls could keep her off the court for significant periods. According to analytics site HerHoopStats, she ranked 3,311 of 3,321 Division I players in fouls per game. She had very limited shooting range; She took only 20 three-point shots all season and made only two.

Starkey pushed Dingle hard to overcome those problems. I never saw a sign she resented that, but I’m not in the locker room, either.

Did she leave because she was unhappy at Kent State? The tweet announcing her transfer called her time her “an amazing two years,” and she thanked her coaches and teammates. That’s pretty standard stuff for transfer announcements.

I’m sure Dingle wasn’t happy when she was suspended for two games in early February.  Starkey never said why; I heard much later that she missed a required team activity.

She never started after that. But the team was better for it. Before that time, the  Flashes had gotten minimal points from their bench. Dingle gave them energy and production, and the team won eight of 11 games.

The way she played in that run was far from that of an unhappy player. Her attitude in postgame interviews was the same it had always been. She was never a particularly articulate interview, but she was fun to be around.

In an interview with Allen Moff of the Record-Courier, Starkey said Dingle was “trying to get closer to home, where she has family going through some significant health situations (not related to the coronavirus). I think that played a pretty big part in her decision.”

A source in Boston (Dingle’s hometown) said the same thing hours before I read Starkey’s statement. She does indeed have a close family member with major health problems, and Boston is 600 miles away, way too far away to easily go home for a quick visit.

I have no way of knowing how much her suspension or not starting had to do with her decision.

But my best guess is that the decision was at least as much family related as it was basketball related, and maybe a lot more.

Life without Dingle

The Flashes certainly will miss her. No team can lose a leading scorer with a unique style like Dingle’s without having to make adjustments.

The dynamics will be different. She was part of a cluster of players — her, senior guard Megan Carter, freshman wing Katie Shumate — who were very good at creating their own shots. And that’s a big reason why the Flashes were 295th in the country in assists.

More and better passing, I think, will help the team.

Mariah Modkins took over as starting point guard when Dingle moved to the bench. She is a calmer player, a better distributor and a better 3-point shooter. But most of the time, the Flashes were a better team with Dingle on the floor. Modkins averaged about 3.5 points in about 16 minutes per game. I’m glad Modkins is on the team, but I’m not sure she’s a full-time championship guard in Division I.

I think incoming freshman guard Casey Santoro will be very good, but you never know with freshmen. Sophomore Hannah Young scored 1,998 points in high school, but it took her almost a season and a half to find herself at Kent State.

Santoro, a four-time all-Ohio choice, averaged 25.2 points a game her senior year and scored more than 2,100 points in her career. Her high school statistics are quite similar to those of Miami’s Peyton Scott and Central Michigan’s Molly Davis. Both guards made the MAC all-freshman team this season.

Next year’s Kent State team is likely be more post-oriented than this year’s. Linsey Marchese, the team’s 6-4 transfer from Indiana, will be eligible. I’ve seen her in practice a number of times. She has the potential to quickly become one of the best centers in school history.

Significant transfers

Dingle is the first front-line player to transfer in Starkey’s four years. Five players left over the last two years, but none were in line to play a major role on the team.

Her transfer is the most significant in the 30-odd years I’ve been following Kent State women’s basketball. The only other major loss I can remember is a guard named Jena Stutzman, who was one of the best 3-point shooters in school history. Unhappy with coach Bob Lindsay’s ultra-demanding style, she transferred to Ashland. There she led her team in scoring as it finished runner-up in the Division II NCAA Tournament in 2012.

In 2004, Andrea Csaszar, at 6-6 center the tallest player in Kent State history, chose to forgo a redshirt senior season to play professional basketball in Europe. It’s not quite the same as a transfer, but it was a big loss. Csaszar still holds the Kent State record for blocked shots in a game and a season and is second in career blocks..