A new season and a different roster

The women’s season opens at 2 p.m. Sunday with an exhibition game against Hiram College; the regular season starts a week later at home against Colgate.

The team was 5-25 last year, fifth in the MAC East and 11th overall.

The team’s preseason press day is Thursday, and I plan to have a full report.

But let’s start the season with a look at the roster, which is one of the most interesting stories of the new season.

This time a year ago the Flashes were a team with just three seniors.

Yet they’re starting this season with only four players who have ever worn a Kent State uniform in a game.

How that happened, briefly:

Two players were hurt last year before last season even started, one left the team during the season, one graduated early, and three transferred to smaller schools. We’ll have more on that later in the week.

The good news is that the four players who are returning are the underclassmen we most wanted back. They are:

  • Leading scorer Larissa Lurken has essentially been Kent State’s only three-point threat in her two years on the team. A junior guard, Lurken scored 11.1 points a game a year ago and was the first Kent State player to average in double figures in four years. (That’s sort of scary, but it’s been that kind of ride for the Flashes lately.) Lurken has started 46 games in her two years here and has scored 507 points. At that pace, she would be the 20th player in Kent State history to score 1,000.

Lurken was a tri-captain as a sophomore last season. She made 31 percent of her three-pointers but just about the same percentage of her two-pointers. She’ll need to shoot better and score even more for Kent State to have a better record this season. She’ll also need help from other outside shooters.

Lurken is the only junior on the team with experience. (There are three junior transfers and a junior walk-on who didn’t get in a game last season.) The team has no seniors.

  • 6-foot-2 sophomore forward Jordan Korinek started 23 games last season as a freshman and was Kent’s third-leading scorer (7.2) and rebounder (4.6). She scored 18 points in Kent’s game at Akron. Korinek was an all stater at Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary’s her senior year in high school, averaging 19 points and 10 rebounds a game.

I had Korinek on my MAC all-freshman team a year ago, though no post player made the official team. O’Banion said Korinek played very well in the team’s scrimmage against Ashland last week. She’ll need to at least double her scoring for Kent to be competitive this season.

  • Sophomore point guard Naddiyah Cross started 15 games last season as a freshman, mostly while senior Mikell Chinn was hurt. She averaged 3 points a game and looked like a freshman point guard much of the time — inconsistent with flashes of good play. She had eight assists against Cleveland State and Central Michigan, both close losses. She made 33 percent of her three-point shots but took only 39. In high school, she was a 42 percent three-point shooter but again wasn’t a scorer (5.8 points a game).

The Flashes have to get more scoring out of the point. Chinn averaged just 2.3 points a game, and teams barely guarded her. Kent State’s going to need to get at least 10 points or so a game from the point guard position, and the point is going to have to help keep turnovers down; the Flashes have been among the worst in the MAC in ball handling for three years. Ideally Cross will build on her game experience. If not, two of Kent’s six freshmen had point guard experience in high school.

  • Sophomore forward McKenna Stephens became eligible the second semester last season and averaged 15 minutes a game in 22 appearances. She started three games and averaged 5 points and 3 rebounds. At times, Stephens showed a quick 15-foot jump shot that forced opponents to adjust their defenses. Whether she starts depends on the development of two big freshmen and a junior college transfer. But expect her to play a lot in any event.

Let’s add a fifth returnee, though she didn’t play at all last year.

Tyra James is a 5-11 wing who blew out her knee a week before last season’s opener. Before that, O’Banion often mentioned James in the same breath as Korinek when talking about last year’s freshman class. James averaged more than 19 points a game her senior year at Cincinnati’s Winton Woods High School and scored a school-record 38 points against a nationally ranked opponent. Her knee is supposed to be sound, and she could have a big impact.

Also returning is junior Lacy Miller, a 6-2 walk-on last season who never got in a regular season game. Miller earned a scholarship for this season, but I don’t expect her to play a great deal.

Before we end this installment, let’s look at the seniors who graduated.

  • 6-foot-4 center Cici Shannon was KSU’s first all-MAC player in four years (third team). Shannon was the dominant rebounder in the MAC during the second half of the season and is fourth in KSU history in shot blocking, even though she played here only two years after transferring from Southern Illinois. Shannon averaged just under 10 points a game. Shannon could dominate a game with her rebounding and shot blocking and developed as a scorer her senior year. She’ll be missed.
  • Chinn, the starting point guard, was second in the MAC in assists but essentially didn’t score. She was a steady presence the second half of the conference season, when Kent State played its best basketball of the O’Banion era. But still, opponent teams barely guarded Chinn. Just replacing her won’t be enough.
  • Forward Montia Johnson was All-American honorable mention in junior college and led the Kent State in scoring her junior year (9 points a game). Johnson lost her starting job to Korinek last year and was hurt for almost two months. At her best, Johnson could be very good, especially as an offensive rebounder. But she was wildly inconsistent and seemed to disappear in some games.
  • Wing Melanie Stubbs started 19 games last year and scored the winning basket in two of Kent State’s five wins. Stubbs, a very good student, was a redshirt junior who decided to graduate and not take her final year of eligibility. She was solid and would have helped the team this year. James could be better. Stubbs was the last Kent State player recruited by former coach Bob Lindsay.

Later in the week: a look at the newcomers and some detail on what happened to those who left the team.

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