The seniors at Media Day: forward Sydney Brinlee, guard/forward Ali Poole, guard Megan Carter, with coach Todd Starkey. (Photo from team Twitter feed.)
Every college basketball coach, Kent State’s Todd Starkey told the Media Day Wednesday, is saying the same thing at this time of your.
“I’m cautiously optimistic,” he said. “We’re at that time of the year when you’re not really sure of what kind of team you have.”
His team is young, he said. It’s also talented.
“The question is,” hew said. “‘What’s going to win out this season?’ Is it going to be talent, or is it going to be youth? That’s the kind of the yin and yang we have right now in practice.
“There are times we look really good, and there are times we’re very average. That’s what we’re working through, but the middle of October is the time to be working on that.”
The Flashes are coming off of a 20-13 season and their first postseason win in 23 years — a 64-59 victory at Green Bay in the WNIT.
They have a lot of returning firepower. Senior Megan Carter was KSU’s leading scorer last season and third-team all-MAC. (“We’re looking for her to stake a claim as one of the top players in the league,” Starkey said.) Sophomore guard Asiah Dingle (“a nightmare to stop in transition”) and sophomore forward Lindsay Thall (“shooting very well” were members of the league’s all-freshman team.
Senior Ali Poole started 19 of Kent’s 33 games last season and 48 games in her career. She was KSU’s fourth-leading scorer last season. She also is still recovering from a knee injury (“progressed a lot quicker when we’ve hoped,” Starkey said). But it’s still unclear when she’ll be able to go full speed in games.
Two more sophomores — guards Hannah Young and Mariah Modkins — were among the first players off the bench last season.
That’s four sophomore and two seniors.
Add three freshmen who have played big roles in practice and the team’s exhibition tour of British Columbia this summer, and you have the team’s youth.
“We’re still trying to figure some things out,” Starkey said, “but we definitely can be better than last year. This has the opportunity to be our most exciting team to watch.”
A chance to play ‘risky’ defense
“We’ve been fairly plain vanilla,” Starkey said. “We’re looking at trying to expand that, take some calculated risks and try to generate more offense from our defense.
“I think we have the athletes on the roster this your to take risks. With some of your younger players in the wing positions, we’ve got players who can cover more ground more quickly and who have length and athleticism.”
The players who are back
A non-comprehensive list from Starkey:
ASIAH DINGLE, the 5-4 point guard who averaged 12.9 points a game: “Everybody knows how good she can be at times. Her level of consistency has continued to rise.” In earlier interviews, both she and Starkey said she had worked to develop her 3-point shot (just 16.4% last season) and create opportunities for her teammates. She averaged 6.7 assists a game during Kent’s Canada trip; she averaged 2.3 last season.
CLARE KELLY, 5-8 freshman guard from Olmsted Falls: “At times, the best shooter on the planet. Like she can’t miss.” She was 9 for 18 on 3s in Vancouver.
KATIE SHUMATE, 5-11 freshman guard from Newark, and NILA BLACKFORD, 6-2 freshman forward from Louisville, Kentucky: “They’re just making plays all over the court.” Shumate was second on the team in scoring in Candada. Blackford led the team in rebounding.
SYDNEY BRINLEE, 6-foot senior forward from Allen, Oklahoma. She was the third senior with Poole and Carter at media day: “She is going to fill some significant minutes for us because of her energy, her voice, her improvement.”
HANNAH YOUNG, 5-10 sophomore guard from Brookville, Va.: “Much improved. Worked very hard in the off season on her footwork. Is shooting the ball very well.”
Carter, Thall and Poole were covered earlier in this post.
The players who left
Kent State lost two players — guard Alexa Golden and center Merissa Barber-Smith — to graduation. They averaged a total of just 10.6 points a game, but their impact was more than points.
“What Alexa meant to our team from a leadership standpoint was significant,” Starkey said. “And you don’t have that voice on the court any more. She’s not going to be able to cover up for people’s mistakes on the court defensively like she did last year.”
(Golden is still with the team as a graduate assistant.)
“Merissa was the most dominant rebounder in the country last year per minutes played,” the coach said. “She had some huge rebounding games down the stretch and really helped us win.”
The WNIT glow
All of the players and Starkey said the Flashes’ WNIT win in Green Bay gave the program a big boost.
“We’ll sit and talk in the locker room,” Poole said. “The freshmen will kind of hop in. They’ve never done any of this before. So we’re like, ‘This is what happens. Now this is what we have to do next year.'”
“It gives us confidence,” Brinlee said. “It pushes us to want more, and we feed off of each other.”
The fan base grows
Season tickets, Starkey said, are running ahead of last year. Attendance grew through last season, hitting 1,928 against Miami in late February. This season’s home highlight, of course, is KSU’s Nov. 21 game against Ohio State. It’s the first time the teams have met since 1982.
A chance to play another team
The Flashes get their first look at outside competition in two closed scrimmages over the next two weeks. They’ll play Cleveland State of the Horizon League and Pittsburgh of the ACC.
The NCAA allows a combination of two closed scrimmages and exhibition games. Exhibitions are usually against Division II or Division III team. More schools have gone to two scrimmages to face better competition. KSU’s men’s team has done that for years.
When’s the first game?
The Flashes open at Duquesne on Tuesday, Nov. 5. The game will be at the PPG Paints Arena, home of the Pittsburgh Penguins. It’s the second game of a double-header, so it will start about 8:30.. (First game is Keith Dambrot’s men’s team against Princeton. Dambrot is the former Akron coach.)
Flashes will play at Youngstown on Saturday, Nov. 9.
Then they play Michigan at the James A. Rhodes Arena at Akron on Friday afternoon, Nov. 15. It’s the first game of the “Akron Classic,” in which Kent State and Akron play the same teams on successive days. On alternate years, it’s the “Kent State Classic at the M.A.C.C. KSU will play Purdue Fort Wayne Saturday in Akron.
Home opener is the Ohio State game Nov. 21.
I’ve got some leftover material from media day and earlier interviews I’ll try to post in the next few days.