Senior Alexa Golden is by far the Flashes’ most experienced player, having started 74 games and averaged 27.1 minutes a game in her three years. (Photo from KSU website.)
Just a few minutsz into practice earlier this month, Kent State freshman forward Lindsey Thall had the ball about 24 feet from the basketball. No one was within five feet of her.
She didn’t hesitate. Shot. Basket.
Minutes later, she did it again.
Later in the practice, senior center Merissa Barber-Smith set a screen for freshman point guard Asiah Dingle, then rolled to the basket. Dingle passed to her in stride. Another score.
“We didn’t have a guard that was going to execute that last year,” coach Todd Starkey said after practice. “They probably wouldn’t have seen it. If they did, they probably would have been late, and it was probably going to be a turnover.”
There’s no question that this is a different team than last season’s. The personnel is very different. Gone are Jordan Korinek, McKenna Stephes sand Naddiyah Cross, who started a combined 286 games in their careers. Arrived is a heralded five-memer freshman class and transfers from two top community college programs.
But the style of play will be different, too. Practice made that evident.
Start with Thall’s three-pointers. She’s 6-2, and led Strongsville High School’s regional finalist team in three-point shooting last season. Starkey says all five freshman can shoot well from that distance. The coach says that senior Alexa Golden is recovered from the leg problems she fought the last six weeks of last season. She’s shooting as well as well as she did when she led the team in three-point percentage (41.2) two years ago, he said. Junior guards Megan Carter and Ali Poole also have shown three-point ability.
That shooting is something we haven’t seen in many years. The Flashes have been near the bottom of the MAC in three-point shooting percentage and three-pointers per game for most of the last seven years.
Cross could be a good passer at the point. But she scored fewer than five points in 23 of Kent’s 32 games last season. It’s clear Starkey expects a lot more points than that from Dingle, who averaged 19.5 for a state championship team in Massachusetts last season.
An emphasis in practice that day I visited was on breaking full-court pressure. The idea was the push the ball and score quickly. Starkey wants the team to average well into the 70s this season. Last year it averaged 62.
At a break in practice, the coach looked over at me and said, “We have shooters. The scores may be 100-98 — us on top, of course. But we have shooters.”
Later, he told his team during a stoppage, “The offense looks a lot better than it is because the defense is so crappy.”
The coach has repeatedly said that college defense is the hardest thing for good high school players to learn.
The team certainly is a work in progress. Results on the press-break drills were, shall we say, mixed. Starkey was in full teaching mode, something he’s very good at. Several times he’d stop play and walk a player to the spot where he wanted her on the floor, explaining what she needs to do there.
At one point, he told Golden, the most experienced player on the team, “You’re playing with three freshmen. You have to know what you’re supposed to do out of the huddle, and make sure they know.”
Then he turned to the freshmen and said, “That’s no excuse for you, though.”
But there is no doubt that he likes what he’s seen so far from his recruiting class.
“I’m optimistic about what we have in place, and I think we’re a little bit ahead of where I thought we’d be,” Starkey said. “I really like our top eight or nine.
“I think we’ve got more depth as far as ability to come in off the bench and impact the game. I think in the past our bench has kind of been to give somebody a little breather. Now when we bring somebody off the bench, and, if they’re playing well, they can stay out there.”
So who starts?
I can’t predict the lineup. I’m not sure Starkey could, either. But here’s a guess on where the starters will come from:
POINT GUARD: I’ll be astonished if Dingle doesnt’ start. I expect her to start 115 games before she graduates. But Starkey also has made it clear he’s high on Mariah Modkins, a 5-foot guard who quarterbacked Solon to the state finals last season. She’s more for a distributor, the coach says, though she can score — perhaps more than Cross but much less than Dingle.
SHOOTING GUARD AND WING: The Flashes’ depth is here. Golden, Carter and Poole all have started. Freshman Hannah Young, Class 3A player of the year in Virginia as a junior, is another shooter. I could see her starting at some point this season. Freshman Annie Pavlansky averaged 21.5 as a senior at Lakeview High School in Cortland. I expect Golden will start, but at least three others will play starters’ minutes.
POST: Barber-Smith, the squad’s tallest player, should see far more playing time than she has so far in her career. Thall will certainly play a lot. And Sydney Brinlee was the second-leading rebounder on a team than was runner-up at the Division II NCAA Junior College Tournament last year. Two of those three will start, and not necessarily the same two all of the time.