The freshmen: (back row) Guard-forward Annie Pavlansky, forward Lindsey Thall, guard Hannah Young, (front) guard Mariah Modkins, guard Asiah Dingle. (Photo from KSU Twitter feed)
As I wrote in the last post, it will be a very different Kent State women’s basketball team that starts the season Nov. 6 in North Carolina.
It’s minus Jordan Korinek, last year’s leading scorer and the fifth leading scorer in Kent State women’s basketball history. It’s minus both other forwards who played significant minutes last spring. And it’s minus a four-year starter at point guard.
It still could be a very interesting season, and, I think, it’s very possible the Flashes could beat their 13-19 record from a year ago.
A big chunk of the season depends on the freshman class, which is perhaps the best recruiting class in school history.
So here’s a look at the roster, based on an interview I had earlier this fall with head coach Todd Starkey:
The Flashes have one returnee who has ever played point guard in college — and she played almost no point last season. That woman is Megan Carter, KSU’s second-leading scorer a year at (10.2 points a game). I’m not even going to talk about her in this segment because she’s now well established at the No. 2 or off-guard.
The people to talk about are two freshmen that Starkey is high on.
A marquee member of the recruiting class is guard Asiah Dingle, the Boston Globe’s high school player of the year in Massachusetts last season. She led her team to three state championships, averaging 19 points, 4.5 assists, five rebounds and five steals per game her senior year.
The other freshman point doesn’t have Pringle’s flashy statistics, but Mariah Modkins helped lead Solon High School to a 26-3 record and the state finals last season. Modkins is listed generously at 5-1 and averaged 9.6 points, 2.6 rebounds, 4.6 assists and 2.3 steals.
“We’ve got two very talented freshman point guards that are very different,” Starkey said. “Asiah is a true playmaker. She has the ability to really attack in transition. She has the ability to break down a defense, to draw secondary help and to find players. She’s a very talented passer and can finish at the basket, but you have to guard her. She can shoot it.
“Mariah is more of a ball-control-type point guard. where she great at initiating action. She’s a very good communicator. She’s probably a little bit better shooter right now than Asiah is and a bit more steady in some areas where Asiah is a more of a high-risk player.
“We played some of them together on the court (in summer practice). They’re very small, but they play very effectively with each other. I actually like playing with two point guards because it makes it even harder for teams to press.”
Shooting guards and wings
The positions are fairly interchangeable in Starkey’s system. Larissa Lurken moved between them in her record-setting year in 2016-17, and Alexa Golden did at times last season.
Discussion of this position starts with Golden and Carter. Golden, a 5-9 senior, has started 74 of the 91 games she has played. She has a reputation as a defensive specialist but has expanded her game beyond that. She was second on the team in three-point percentage as a sophomore, and Starkey said shot the ball as well as anyone on the team in summer. The team’s increased depth at shooting guard, the coach said, allows Golden to concentrate at what she does best — being “a great spot shooter, a phenomenally instinctual defender and the backbone of our toughness.”
Golden is fully recovered from leg problems she had last winter, when she barely practiced toward the end of the year because of pain.
Carter has started only four games in her time in Kent but is a key offensive weapon. She played starter minutes as the first player off the bench last season and was the team’s strongest perimeter scorer. But she could be very streaky. For example, after she led the Flashes with 17 points against Miami in February, she went five for 30 in her next four games. Then she scored 24 in KSU’s upset of Toledo in the first round of the MAC tournament.
“She’s just consistency away from being an All-MAC player,” Starkey says.
Guard is the deepest position on the KSU roster. Besides Carter and Golden, there’s Ali Poole, who started 26 of 30 games last season and averaged 7.1 points a game. She was KSU’s second-leading three-point shooter.
And then there are two more highly touted freshmen. Hannah Young was player of the year in Class 3 in Virginia as a junior, second-team all-state her freshman years and first team her last three years in high school. Young, who is 5-10, averaged 19.5 points, 7.8 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 3.5 steals and 1.3 blocks on a team that went 24-4 her senior year.
Six-foot Annie Pavlansky averaged 21.8 points and 8.8 rebounds for Lakeview High School in Cortland despite being the focus of every opponent’s defense. If (probably more like when) the Flashes play a four-guard offense, Pavlansky will be an important piece.
Two more guards are sophomore Margaux Eibel, a walk-on who earned a scholarship this summer, and Jess Wallis, a junior college transfer from Tennessee with a reputation as a shooter.
“We have a roster full of really good shooters,” Starkey said. “The depth at guard provides a lot of versatility. Some of the players are better defenders, some are better pure shooters, some are better off the dribble.”
The shooting will be welcome. KSU has been near the bottom of the MAC in three-point baskets per game for what seems like forever. Last year the Flashes were dead last in three-point percentage at 27.7 and last in made three-pointers at 4.6 per game. (League leader Central Michigan made 9.1 a game and shot 38.4 percent.)
Perhaps the best three-point shooter on the team, Starkey said, is 6-2 freshman Lindsey Thall from Strongsville High School.
“She’s got range up to 27 feet,” the coach said. (The three-point line is 20.75 feet.) “She’s a good rebounder and a talented passer. She understands offensive flow and has great court vision for a step-out post player.
“She’s not going to score a ton on the block, but that isn’t where she wants to spend all her time. Still she’s definitely an inside-out threat.”
Like most of the freshman, Starkey said, Thall has furthest to go on learning college defense.
Another newcomer who should see a lot of time in the post is junior college transfer Sydney Brinlee from Oklahoma (KSU’s first player from that state). Brinlee was second-leading rebounder on a Highland (Kansas) Community College team that went 35-1 and reached the Division II junior college semifinals. She’s listed at six foot and averaged 8.8 points and 7.3 rebounds in less than 19 minutes per game.
“She’s just an just alive body, very bouncy, and our biggest voice in practice,” Starkey said. “She has a lot of confidence and is used to winning. She is a really good rebounder outside of her airspace. She can go get the ball. It doesn’t have to be right above her head.”
And back after missing the whole conference season with a medical issue is 6-4 Merissa Barber-Smith. When she was a sophomore, Starkey said, Barber-Smith made the difference in at least three wins of KSU’s 19-13 season.
“Merissa has come back and shown some really good things,” Starkey said. “I think she’s very determined, and she was further along than I expected her to be during the summer.
“I don’t think people really realized how much of a hit losing her was. We won 13 games last year. If we had had Merissa, I think we win three or four more, and we’re over .500. With the roster we had last year, we just didn’t have that much margin for error.”
Other players in the post mix are sophomores Monique Smith (5-11) and Amanda Sape (6-2). Both averaged near 19 points a game their senior years in high school and nearly a double-double from their sophomore years on. Smith — perhaps the best athlete in last year’s freshman class — played mostly post in high school but was learning the wing last season because of KSU was loaded with senior post players. Sape had shoulder surgery right after high school graduation and didn’t start practicing at full speed until just before last season started. She played only a total of eight minutes in five games.
The Flashes, Starkey said, have been a good rebounding team in his first two years that hasn’t had a lot of great individual rebounders. This team might be different, he said.
Still, he said, “There’s a lot of things we’re still learning about this new group.”
Some catch-up items:
- Korinek is playing professional basketball for Panionios WBC from Athens, Greece. She also participated in the “So You Want to be a Coach” program at last spring’s Final Four. The workshop starts the training of graduating seniors who are thinking about a coaching career. Korinek’s older sister, Morgan, participated in the program in 2012 and is now is an assistant at Kenyon College. KSU assistant Morgan Toles participated in the program in 2013.
- Ijah Fletcher, the 6-2 post from Long Island who accepted a scholarship offer from KSU during the April signing period, never made it to campus. When that happens, it’s usually cold feet or eligibility problems. In this case, I think it was the latter. Fletcher had averaged 20.8 points a game as a senior.
- The team had a 3.6 grade point average in summer classes. Six players on last year’s team were academic all-MAC: Korinek, Poole, Golden, McKenna Stephens, Zenobia Bess, and Tyra James.
- Starkey, as quoted on the KSU website kentstatesports.com after his team’s first practice Sunday: “I thought our energy was really good for a first practice, and I saw some really good things from the team tonight. We are definitely further along at this point than I anticipated. When transitioning from hour-long workouts to full practice that last a couple hours, it’s always interesting to see if players are able to maintain their energy, attention and focus. I thought they did a good job, especially for having seven new players.”
An earlier posting of this item had freshman guard Asiah’s Dingle’s last name wrong. My apologies for a stupid error. I’ve probably already written about her eight times and will likely write about her 208 more over the next four years.