After the women practiced Tuesday for their upcoming WNIT game at Michigan, l was able to sit down with three players we don’t usually hear from — guards Alexa Golden, Naddiyah Cross and Megan Carter.
Golden, a sophomore, and Cross, a junior, have started every game this season when they were healthy (Golden missed two games with minor injuries). Carter, a redshirt freshman, has come to play starter minutes throughout the conference season.
This post will focus on their thoughts on the team, its transformation from 6-23 last season to 19-12 this year, its growth as the season went on, and a little on the WNIT. I’ll have a full preview of the game, including thoughts from coach Todd Starkey, Wednesday.
The game is at 7 p.m. Thursday in Ann Arbor. Details are at the end of the post.
Here’s some of my conversation with Golden, Carter and Cross.
On team chemistry
Cross: If the going gets tough, you lean on your teammates. If the chemistry isn’t there, it’s like a really weak tree — that if it gets cold and the winds blows, all the branches fall off. But if it’s a strong tree, it’s going to be there all winter and grow new leaves in the summer.
How KSU is a different than it was in December, when it lost badly to two other Big Ten teams
Golden: You know how hard those teams work and how hard you have to work.
Carter: You know you have to amp it up.
Golden: We’ve realized that we can’t just rely on Jordan and Larissa, that other people have to step up.
Cross: Especially when they’re not playing the best, we need to get open so we have other ways to score.
Golden: In earlier games, I was more passive. I would just sit back and watch Rys and J do their thing. Now other people have to step up. So when I do get my chance, I have to make the best of it.
(“Rys” is senior Larissa Lurken, the team’s leading scorer. “J” is Jordan Korinek, junior forward and second-leading scorer.)
On playing against Big Ten-caliber players
Golden: We have nothing to lose. All we can do is give it our all.
On the team’s seniors
Cross: It’s important to play for more than yourself. So you play for the seniors. Everybody outside can see Larissa and McKenna. But the other seniors — the ones you may not see as much on the floor — are so important.
Carter: Before Minnesota (when Carter had a breakout game), I had a talk with Lacey. She really showed how I was being too passive. She saw something in me that I wasn’t seeing in myself. She brought that out in me, and since then things have taken off.
Cross: You come out on the side, and they’re always talking and helping you through things. Chelsi is super goofy in the locker room. She may get down on herself sometimes, but she’s always making sure people are smiling. Kez is just as fun and outgoing. lf someone is down, she’ll be, ‘Come on, guys, let’s watch some reality TV together.’
Cross: That’s the senior leadership that’s important to us.
(McKenna is McKenna Stephens, the team’s other senior starter with Lurken. Lacey is Lacey Miller, a one-time walk-on who has played only 18 minutes this season. Chelsi is Chelsi Watson, a reserve post player, and Kez is Keziah Lewis, a junior college transfer who grew up in New Zealand.)
On how assistant coach Morgan Toles, a former SEC point guard, works with Carter and Cross
Cross: What she’d tell me is different from what she’d tell Megan. Obviously Megan can score. My point total may not be as high as hers, but coach Toles will show me better ways to find the open person. So if I’m in the game with Megan and I split a defender, I know to get two more dribbles into the paint so I can hit Megan on the wing. For Megan, it’s split the team and get right up and make the shot.
On what they — as returning starters next year — want to take forward
Cross: “Every day is a tryout. You can’t stop working. Keep to our core values. Trust our coaches to bring in good recruits. He’s told us, ‘We’re going to bring in players who are better than you.’ That will make us better, and that’s what we want.
What they would want to tell their fellow Kent State students
Cross: That we’re not the same team they’ve been used to.
Carter: That our games can be fun to watch.
Cross: That they should come support us.
Golden: And that everything is possible.
About realizing that they’re in a postseason tournament
Golden: It’s like a dream. Growing up, you see it on TV, and you think, ‘It would be great, but I’ll never be in that. To be in it is sort of surreal.
Cross: Especially after the seasons we’ve been having, it’s great.
On the end of the season
Cross: In December, you think you have so much time left. Right now, every game could be our last game together, every practice could be our last time together. So you work a lot harder and cherish every moment.
About the game
- The first-round WNIT game is at 7 p.m. Thursday at the Crisler Center (formerly Crisler Arena) at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. It’s an easy three-hour drive from Kent, west on the Ohio Turnpike, then north in Interstate 23. Here’s Google Map. Written directions are at the bottom of this webpage.
- There’s a free fan bus to the team (including a free ticket), leaving at noon on Thursday, from the M.A.C. Center. To reserve a spot, contact Cory Slama at firstname.lastname@example.org before 2 p.m. on Wednesday.
- Here’s how to buy tickets yourself. They’re $7.
- The game will be streamed online on the Big Ten Network Plus. It will cost $9.95 for what they call a monthly “school pass,” which allows you to watch only Michigan games. Be sure to cancel after the game; it renews automatically every month if you don’t.
- Radio will be on WHLO 640 and Golden Flashes iHeart Radio, starting about 6:45.
- Michigan finished third in the Big Ten and is one of the top teams in the WNIT. The Wolverines were 22-9 and probably lost a NCAA bid when they lost three of their last four regular season games to first-division teams, then fell in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten tournament. They have the Big Ten coach of the year and two all-league players, plus one of the league’s top freshmen.