Three last key players: guards Carter (next semester), Poole and Cross

When I asked coach Todd Starkey what he thought the key to this season was, I expected an answer like “replacing the scoring of Larissa Lurken,” the MAC player of the year who graduated in May.

Instead, he said, with almost no hesitation:

“Getting Megan Carter back.”

Carter, a redshirt sophomore guard who a major role on the team at the end of last season, is academically ineligible until second semester. Carter was a pre-med major last year, and some tough lab classes in spring sank her GPA. She’s now a public health major.

So Carter will lead off the last of our series on key players for the 2017-18 season.

Megan Carter, 5-6 sophomore guard

Carter has never started a game for the Flashes. She blew out a knee in the third game of her first year and came off the bench last season. But by March, she was playing more minutes than starting point guard Naddiyah Cross.

“She’s our most dynamic perimeter player,” Starkey said. And when she’s in the lineup, he said, “it puts everybody where they need to be as opposed to being a little out of their element.”

Carter was Kent State’s fourth leading scorer last season at 5.8 points a game (7.0 in MAC games). She scored in double figures seven times and hit the game-winning basket in Kent’s 80-78 victory over Bowling Green in January.

“She showed moments of really good basketball last year, and that picked up right where it left off and got better,” he said.

Carter’s spirits and work ethic are good despite not being able to play, Starkey said, and her grades are back on track.

Ali Poole, 5-11 sophomore guard

Poole was a big scorer at Carrollton High School and showed flashes of that in her first year, especially when she hit 5 of 5 three-point shots against Wright State. Her playing time dropped off as Carter’s increased in the conference season. She averaged 4.3 points in 14 minutes a game.

Starkey said Poole was one of the team’s top players in scrimmages against Xavier and Cleveland State over the weekend.

“Her strengths are solid, and she has confidence in her strengths” Starkey said. “And she has strengthened her weaknesses. Her work ethic and willingness to be coached has been good.”

Naddiyah Cross, 5-5 senior point guard

Cross has started 63 games in her three years at Kent State, including 31 of 32 last season. Starkey said that she is in great playing shape and a steady influence at the point.

The one thing Cross doesn’t do is score. She has averaged fewer than 4 points a game in her three years, and that’s unlikely to change.

As the Flashes look to replace the 24 points a game they lost with Lurken’s graduation, the scorers are most likely to be the key to this season.

The rest of the roster

The fourth senior on the roster is Zenobia Bess, a 6-foot post player who transferred from Illinois State before her junior year. Bess played only 7 minutes a game last season and averaged fewer than 2 points. I would think she’ll see more action as a reserve this year, but I doubt she’ll be a big factor.

Besides Monique Smith (featured yesterday), the Flashes have five other freshmen on the roster.

Most likely to contribute is point guard Erin Thames, because of the Flashes’ not having Carter until December. At press day, Starkey said Thames shoots well off the dribble, Starkey said, and her defense has improved markedly.

Guard Kasey Toles (sister of assistant coach Morgan Toles) has shown an excellent three-point release in practice but is still learning college-level defense, Starkey said.

Two freshman post players — 6-3 Amanda Sape and 6-2 Kennedy Roberts-Rosser — probably will contribute more next year than this year. Sape, who averaged a double-double her last two years in high school, had shoulder surgery over the summer and is still getting into game shape. Roberts-Rosser was a late addition to the recruiting class and will need time to develop. Both are playing behind seniors Bess, Jordan Korinek, McKenna Stephens and 6-4 junior Merissa Barber-Smith. The freshmen will struggle to crack that rotation.

The Flashes added a walk-on wing guard just before practice started. She is Margaux Eibel, a 5-11 all-league player from San Diego. Eibel averaged 9 points and 5 rebounds a game her senior year in high school. She came to Kent State for its fashion design program, which is ranked among the top five in the country.

Here’s the full Kent State roster, which has biographical links to each player

On the recruiting class

Signing day for 2018 freshmen is Wednesday. (I incorrectly had it a day earlier in my last post.) All five players who have committed verbally to Kent State still list themselves as KSU recruits on their Twitter pages. The class includes all-state players from Ohio, Massachusetts and Virginia and may well be the best recruiting class in Kent State history. Here’s a link to my last recruiting post. I’ll have an interview with Starkey and recruiting coordinator Fran Recchia on how it all came together once the paperwork is signed.

On the scrimmages

The Flashes scrimmaged with Xavier on Saturday and Cleveland State on Sunday — partly, Starkey said, in preparation for back-to-back games they’ll be playing the Akron Classic in two weeks and the Play4Kay Showcase in Las Vegas at Thanksgiving.

The Flashes split the scrimmages. The NCAA doesn’t let coaches talk much about them, but Starkey said the team did not play at all well against Xavier but substantially better against Cleveland State. Jordan Korinek and Ali Poole led the team against Cleveland State.

Tyra James, counted on to play a key role on the perimeter this season, missed the weekend action with a concussion.

She should be back for Saturday’s season opener at Northern Kentucky, Starkey said.

Where they are now

Point guards Taylor Parker and Paige Salisbury, sophomore reserves last season,  transferred over the summer. Salisbury, a walk-on who started 12 games as a freshman, is now at Ursuline, a strong Division II program in Pepper Pike. (“She just wanted to play,” Starkey said.) Parker is at Glenville State College, a Division II school in Glenville, West Virginia. She was the fastest player on Kent State’s team but never clicked during either Danny O’Banion’s last season or Starkey’s first.

Former Kent State assistant Pat Mashuda is back at Chowan University in Murfeesboro, North Carolina, as vice president for athletics. Mashuda had been head  women’s basketball coach at Chowan before Starkey hired him as an assistant at Kent State.


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