The 2016-17 women’s basketball team, all dressed up.
The opening of the women’s basketball team’s season highlight reel was the preseason prediction for the 2016-17 MAC East standings.
Kent State was last.
The end was the actual standings.
Kent State was first.
It was a happy celebration for the team Saturday at its season-ending banquet, where the highlights were shown. Here’s how coach Todd Starkey put it in his summation, calling it “the most fun I’ve had in 20 years of coaching — because it was so unexpected.”
“Serendipitous,” he called it, adding the dictionary definition: “A joyful experience coming from something unexpected. We got to experience that together. It was something very special, and it was an honor to be your coach.”
There little unexpected in team awards.
Top defender went to sophomore guard Alexa Golden, whom Starkey cited for six steals in Kent’s big win at Ohio at midseason.
Top offensive player was Jordan Korinek. “So understated,” Starkey said. “It great when one of your best players wants everyone else to do well.”
There were two most improved players: McKenna Stephens, the senior forward who Starkey said “butted heads” with him early in the season as he tried to bring out potential he saw in her, and sophomore center Merissa Barber-Smith, who he credited for making the difference off the bench in three conference wins.
A “Golden Flash” award went to senior center Lacey Miller, who scored two points in her three-year career at Kent State but was a popular, valuable player who “was almost excited about her teammates’ success.”
And most valuable player, to no one’s surprise, was senior Larissa Lurken, the Mid-American Conference player of the year. Every game, Starkey said, “we knew we had the best player on the court on our side.”
Starkey said he had had a number of agents and two WNBA coaches contact him about a possible professional career for Lurken. He talked to her about it, he said, and she told him: “Coach, this is a great way to end my career. I didn’t expect in a million years for it to happen. I’m really excited about the new phrase of my life — being a nurse.”
“She’s going to change hundreds of lives in her career,” Starkey said.
The coach updated Lurken’s GPA — listed at 3.72 when she and Jordan Korinek (4.0 in special education) were named to the second-team all-American academic team — to 3.87.
In one segment of the evening, assistant coach Morgan Toles asked the team’s five seniors about their time at Kent State.
Lurken’s highlight: “Cutting down the nets” (when KSU won the MAC East outright). “I had never done that in my life.”
Keziah Lewis (New Zealand) and Chelsi Watson (Louisiana) on being far from home: “The team was family.”
Miller on her only basket — against top 10 team Baylor. “It was my mom’s birthday.”
Stephens, who started her college career as a softball player at Michigan State. In an early practice, when former coach Danny O’Banion told her to “hedge on a screen”: “I had no idea what she was talking about.”
I asked the seniors what was next for them.
Watson is headed for the military in human relations or as a military police officer. (She was a criminal justice major.)
Miller is going to grad school in special education in the fall.
Stephens is going into public health — perhaps working on clinical trials, perhaps working on medical devices. She was on crutches Saturday after surgery on her hip last week. She was injured on the first play of Kent State’s last game of the season against Michigan in the WNIT. In that game, she played 37 minutes, scored 11 points and had 8 rebounds.
Lewis, whose father is a coach in New Zealand, is head for the country of Turkmenistan this summer as part of a three-on-three tournament. She may play for a national team and has a line on an economics job with the New Zealand government.
Lurken is looking at a job in neonatal intensive care at a Minnesota hospital near her parents’ home. Eventually she plans to become a nurse practitioner, who does some of the duties of a doctor and a nurse.