By Carl Schierhorn
COVID-19 had kept the Kent State women’s basketball team apart for more than five months.
This week they’re back on the court together.
Through AAU and instructional leagues, most players had been in organized basketball almost year-round since they were in elementary school. Coaches, too.
“Not since I was a kid have I gone five months without basketball,” coach Todd Starkey said in an interview last week.
For the players, “it was tough,” the coach said. “We had conversations with them via Zoom and FaceTime and phone calls every week, touching base and talking with them about mental and physical health.
“They tried to work out on their own. Some had access to weights, some didn’t. Some players had access to baskets. It was challenging, but I think that by and large, they all handled it fairly well. They’re glad to have that phase of it behind them, at least for the time being.”
When the NCAA approved a Nov. 25 start to games last week, they also approved an expanded preseason workout schedule. Until formal practice starts Oct. 10, teams can spend 12 hours a week on strength and conditioning, team meetings and on-court drills. In previous seasons (and this fall before this week), it had been eight hours with severe limitations on on-court activities.
The Flashes, like all Kent State teams, returned to campus weeks later than at many other MAC schools, apparently because KSU safety protocols were more stringent than at other places.
Players started with a COVID test when they returned to campus. (All passed.) Then the team used a four-tier system of “re-entry,” as Starkey called it.
First, one player worked with one coach. Then the team was split into “pods,” where a small group players lived and worked out together. That would have allowed easier contact tracing if someone became infected or was exposure to the virus. Then the size of the pods was increased. Finally, all team members and coaches could work together.
“We’ve been very deliberate and gradual in bringing them back to basketball movements, and coaching and terminology,” Starkey said. “It’s been a process.”
Reworking the schedule
The team had essentially finished its schedule of games before the NCAA moved the start of the season two-and-a-half weeks later.
Starkey isn’t exactly starting over, but there’s work to do.
“There’s a lot of questions that we have to get answers for before we can even start to piece together what Nov. 25 to conference play is going to look like,” Starkey said. “It’s a complicated puzzle.
“We’ve just now reached out today to try and figure out some of those pieces. And we’re waiting to hear back on contract situations. It’s a bit of a mess.“
The NCAA is limiting teams to 28 regular season games if they play in a multi-team tournament. Last season the limit was 31.
The MAC will play a 20-game conference schedule, leaving a maximum of eight non-conference games. Starkey doesn’t think his schedule will have that many.
Two opponents have already backed out of games. The Flashes were scheduled to play at Ohio State, a return trip from OSU’s visit to the M.A.C. Center last season. But Starkey doesn’t know if that game going to happen. He said he has no plans at this point for a multi-team tournament, though “nothing is off the table.”
“I don’t think we’ll get to 27,” he said. “We’ll probably have four or five non-conference games.“
No Kent State Classic
The event in which Akron and Kent State played the same teams over two days won’t happen this year. It’s not because of the change in NCAA scheduling rules.
“We’re having trouble getting two teams to commit because we both continued to get better,” Starkey said. “When we both weren’t quite as good, everybody wanted to play us. Now it’s harder to get people to come in and play us back to back.”
The idea of the event was to alternate between Kent State and Akron, where it was the “Akron Classic.” Last season the Flashes and Zips played Michigan and Purdue Fort Wayne in Akron. The year before Northern Kentucky and Oakland plays Akron and Kent at the M.A.C.C.
No basketball on Election Day
The NCAA Division I Council last week also decided that teams can’t play or practice on Election Day, Nov. 3. It’s a move Starkey strongly endorses.
“We were going to do it anyway,” the coach said. “We’ll have 100% voter registration on our staff and team within a week.
“That’s something we’re really focused on, talking with our team about being proactive and involved on educating yourself. We’re not telling them what to think. That’s on them. We’re just providing them the opportunity to get out and vote, for sure.”
Bridget Dunn with KSU coaches on a pre-COVID 19 recruiting visit to Kent State. (Photo from her AAU team’s Twitter feed.)
Kent State’s first recruit from the class of 2021 is one of the best junior forwards in Indiana.
She is 6-1 Bridget Dunn, who averaged 12.3 points and 9.9 rebounds for Carmel High School last season. The Indianapolis Star’s top prep writer listed her as one of 10 candidates for next season’s Miss Basketball in Indiana. Dunn made the state basketball coaches association’s 15-member all-junior team in 2020. (Indiana names a senior all-state team and a junior all-state team. Above each is a “Supreme 15.”)
Dunn announced though her high school team’a Twitter feed earlier this month that she had verbally committed to Kent State, which had offered her a scholarship last summer. KSU coaches can’t comment on recruits until they sign a national letter of intent in November.
Here’s what Matthew VanTryon, who writers an “insider” column for the Star, said about Dunn in his list of Miss Basketball candidates:
“Dunn took a big step forward for Carmel during her junior season, averaging 12.3 points and 9.9 rebounds per game while shooting 47% from the floor and 90% from the line. The Greyhounds have a wealth of young talent returning, meaning Dunn figures to have a chance to have strong numbers and plenty of wins on her résumé.”
Dunn’s Carmel team was ranked 14th in the state and finished last season at 15-8 against what the Star described as one of the toughest schedules in the state. Carmel, a consistent power in Indiana basketball, started at 3-6 but won 12 of its last 14.
Dunn averaged 12.3 points, 9.9 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 1.4 steals and 1.8 blocks last season. according to MaxPreps, a recurring service.
Counting Dunn, the Flashes will have as many as five scholarships available for the 2021-22 season. They have three open now; reserve forward Monique Smith and reserve guard Margaux Eibel will graduate after next season.
No transfer rule change this season
A month ago, the NCAA looked on the verge of approving a rule that would allow football, men’s and women’s basketball, baseball and hockey players to transfer once without having to sit out a season.
The NCAA’s transfer waiver working group, chaired by MAC Commissioner Jon Steinbrecher, had been expected to bring the proposal to the Division I Council in May.
Instead, the council pushed any decision on transfer changes to January, saying that the COVID-19 pandemic had made things too unsettled for such a major change at this time. It asked for suggestions from members for suggestions
Currently athletes in every sport except basketball. football, baseball and hockey are allowed to transfer and play immediately. The exception was to prevent the rosters of the most prestigious sports being shuffled every season.
But still athletes still transferred. Currently there are more than 800 men’s basketball players and more than 400 women in the NCAA’s transfer portal, which notifies coaches a player is seeking a transfer. A portion of those are “graduate transfers,” players who have finished their undergraduate degrees. They are eligible immediately while they work on a masters degree (which many athletes never finish).
Athletes are also eligible to play immediately if they received a “hardship” waiver, often based on a perceived need to move closer to home. Asiah Dingle, who transferred from Kent State to Stony Brook, said a large part of her decision was based on a desire to be closer to her father in Boston. He has had several strokes. Dingle has said she would seek a hardship waiver.
But some coaches have argued that hardship transfer rules has been applied unevenly, especially in the case of high-profile players and programs.
Steinbrecher acknowledged that in February in discussing his working group’s charge.
““The current system is unsustainable,” he said. “Working group members believe it’s time to bring our transfer rules more in line with today’s college landscape. More than a third of all college students transfer at least once, and the Division I rule prohibiting immediate competition for students who play five sports hasn’t discouraged them from transferring.
“This dynamic has strained the waiver process, which was designed to handle extenuating and extraordinary circumstances.”
Student-athletes in truth
A record-tying six Kent State players made the MAC all-academic team announced earlier this spring. Here’s the list and their cumulative GPAs and majors, according to the MAC release announcing the team.
- Senior Sydney Brinlee, 3.449, Communication Studies.
- Sophomore Asiah Dingle, 3.319, Criminal Justice. (Dingle has since transferred to Stony Brook.)
- Sophomore Mariah Modkins, 3.557, Fashion Merchandising.
- Sophomore Annie Pavlansky, 4.00, Middle Childhood Education. (She was one of four players among the 56 on the team to have a perfect GPA.)
- Sophomore Lindsey Thall, 3.422, Biology/Pre-Med.
- Sophomore Hannah Young, 3.799, Physical Education.
The group includes Kent State’s entire recruiting class of 2018, which also was one of the best group of athletes ever to enter in the same year.
Only eight KSU players were eligible for all-academic honors. Freshmen (the Flashes had three) aren’t eligible. Senior Ali Poole, a biology major who was an all-MAC academic selection in 2018 and 2019, was injured and didn’t play enough games to qualify. Neither did junior Margaux Eibel, a fashion design major who played sparingly.
To qualify for the team, a player needs to have a 3.2 cumulative GPA and play in at least half a team’s games.
Northern Illinois had eight players on the team. Ball State, Bowling Green, Central Michigan and Miami joined Kent State with six.
The Mid-American conference announced Tuesday that it was going to a 20-game conference basketball schedule. It also is eliminating the first round of the MAC tournament, which had been played on campus sites.
The league had been playing an 18-game schedules in men’s and women’s basketball. At the end of the regular season, the top four teams got byes to the quarterfinals of the league tournaments. The other eight teams played first-round games on the home floor of the lower seed. (The 12th seed played at the fifth seed, 11th seed at the sixth seed. etc.)
Other changes announced by the MAC included elimination of postseason tournaments in eight sports. Postseason events would be reduced in seven other sports.
The new schedules would go into effect in the 2020-21 seasons and would last for at least four years. The league said that could change based on changes in school and league finances.
The changes, a MAC press release said, were designed to save money lost because of the Covid-19 pandemic. Almost every MAC school has announced cuts in athletic budgets, ranging from 10% to 20%. Other than salary reductions, few teams have released details of the cuts.
The new plan was created by a working group including athletic directors, other sports administrators, faculty and students. League athletic directors approved the final version.
The first report of the changes, based on an interview with MAC Commissioner Jon Steinbrecher with Toledo television statement WTOL, also said the conference was eliminating divisions in men’s and women’s basketball. But the MAC press release made no mention of that.
The MAC was the last conference in the country to have divisions in basketball. Its divisions were for scheduling convenience as much as anything.
MAC basketball had been split into East and West divisions of six teams, based on geography. Teams played two games against divisional opponents, one game against four teams in the other division, and two games against two teams in the other division. The home-and-home cross-division opponents were based on team’s previous year’s conference record.
Details of a 20-game schedule weren’t released. If saving on travel is the main purpose, it’s logical that teams on the edges of the conference — Buffalo, Kent State, Akron and Ohio in the East and Northern Illinois, Western Michigan, Central Michigan and Ball State in the West — would play less.
Elimination of divisions won’t have much practical effect on conference standings. Except in rare instances, divisional records mean nothing in seedings for the conference tournament, which are based on overall conference record.
Two more league games means that non-conference games played at a greater distance — like Ohio’s two-game road trip to Texas last season — could be eliminated. So might holiday tournaments like Kent State and Toledo’s trip to Las Vegas last Christmas and Bowling Green’s trip to a California tournament.
Teams had been playing 10 or 11 non-conference games. Now that will be nine or 10.
The conference schedule is usually is announced in early fall. Non-conference games usually were announced in mid-to-late summer.
This is all assuming universities and sports go ahead with relatively normal seasons next year. Most universities hope to reopen in fall. A major second wave of Covid-19 in summer or fall could shut down campuses again. And most schools have said that if the full student body isn’t on campus, there will be no sports.
Changes in other sports
The MAC said that postseason tournaments in baseball, softball field hockey, men’s and women’s soccer, men’s and women’s tennis and women’s lacrosse would be eliminated for up to four years, depending on finances. Regular-season champions would advance to NCAA tournaments.
Baseball and softball teams would play a 30-game schedules. They had been playing 26.
The league volleyball tournament would be cut from eight to four teams. The length of postseason tournaments and meets in swimming, track and golf would be cut, mostly by one day.
Wrestling and gymnastics will continue to hold postseason championships. The MAC football championship, which matches divisional winners, won’t change.
“It’s a lot to unpack,” KSU athletics director Joel Nielsen said in an interview with the Record-Courier’s Allen Moff. “The changes affect every program in the MAC equally.
“There are too many (changes) to comment specifically, but our student-athletes and fans will see more games being played between MAC schools in almost every program, with more home games in some sports. The regular season conference finish will now be the goal in several sports due to the championship event being removed.”
The team’s first online meeting (from their Twitter feed).
By Kathryn Rajnicek
KentWired sports reporter
Associate head coach Fran Recchia spends much of her time these days at her kitchen table, searching for future Flashes.
“At least two hours a day,” she said, “watching film or highlights or calling coaches.”
Freshman forward Nila Blackford starts each morning practicing yoga on a mat on her deck in Louisville, Kentucky.
“I do it to wake my body up, stretch, work on my flexibility and ease my mind,” Blackford said.
Sophomore guard Hannah Young has packed and carried box after box to her family’s new home.
“They were pretty heavy boxes and furniture,” Young said. “I lifted about 25 things a day when we were moving.”
In a world where the coronavirus keeps people at home, offseason activities take place in basements, bedrooms and driveways. Recchia, Blackford, Young and the rest of the women’s basketball team are recruiting, training and connecting in ways they never imagined.
“This is an unprecedented thing for anybody in our lifetimes,” coach Todd Starkey said.
Recruiting from the kitchen
To help try to prevent the spread of the virus, the NCAA banned coaches from visiting players and players from visiting campus. High school basketball tournaments and spring AAU basketball were canceled, so coaches haven’t seen prospective players in person since at least March.
“Everybody’s trying to be creative right now,” Starkey said. “We are using social media and FaceTime with current high school juniors.”
Most seniors have already signed with colleges; coaches are not allowed to contact high school freshmen and sophomores.
When Starkey talks to prospective players, the conversation doesn’t often start with basketball.
“We’re interested in the whole person whether this [the coronavirus] is going on or not,” Starkey said. “We want to know what motivates them and what’s important to them. Those are probably the first things we talk about on calls, then we move into basketball.”
When Recchia evaluates tape, she prefers watching full games instead of highlights.
“You can see them on both sides of the ball,” Recchia said. “You can see how they respond to mistakes on the defensive end, or after turning the ball over, or missing a shot, or being subbed out.”
It’s still not the same as being at a game.
“When you’re there in person, everything’s just a bit clearer,” Recchia said. “You can see how they are when they’re receiving tough coaching, their eye contact and response to their coach.”
She also watches what players do after the game is over.
“Are they helping pick up the bench? Are they the first ones out? Are the parents carrying their bags?” she said. “Things like that you don’t really get to see on film.”
Recchia spends a lot of time talking to coaches about a player’s strengths and weaknesses — but also emphasizing what kind of person they are.
“You rely on a lot of relationships with their coaches,” Recchia said.
Usually, Kent State will not offer a player a scholarship solely based off of video.
“In normal circumstances, that almost never happens,” Starkey said. “We’re looking at more video, but it doesn’t mean that getting video from recruits is going to lead us to offering just because we see a player have a good highlight tape.
“It’s more involved in that. It’s understanding who a player is, how they react to adversity, how they react to coaching, those different types of things. It’s certainly not a simple process.
“In a situation like this, we are starting to get involved with some players we’ve only seen on film. That may need to be the case at least in the short term.”
Training at home: Using what’s available
With stay-at-home orders in effect, players cannot go to gyms or work out in groups.
“I’ve been going on runs in the parks that are open,” sophomore Lindsey Thall said. “The training staff gave us some ball-handling drills.”
Sophomore Mariah Modkins works out two to three times a day.
“I do cardio, weight lifting, some basketball and boxing,” Modkins said. “I just make the most that I can with the resources I have.
“One of the things that comes with being a student athlete is self-motivation. You know what you need and how to adapt to what your body is telling you. You know if you need more rest or extra workouts.”
Blackford started practicing yoga as a unique way to stay in shape.
“It’s something active, and I can’t just sit around all day,” Blackford said. “I’ve also been doing things like running and weight lifting to help maintain overall strength and endurance.”
Kent State’s training staff has sent out some home workouts to help the players that do not have access to a lot of equipment.
“The workouts include a lot of body-weight and using dumbbells,” Young said. “It’s a lot of lunges, squats, push-ups, pull-ups and core-type workouts.”
The workouts compensate for lack of equipment with more repetitions.
“It’s been a lot of body-weight workouts for strength,” Thall said. “They have us do more reps instead of higher weights because a lot of us don’t have home gyms.”
Keeping busy: Quarantine style
Mostly, the players are like other students. They do school work and try to entertain themselves.
For many, having all online classes is an adjustment.
“It’s really easy for you to be like, ‘All right, I’m just going to hold off on this and push it to tomorrow,’” Blackford said, “because you aren’t forced to go to class and do the whole face-to-face type of interaction. Online is definitely more challenging, but it’s still class and still a priority you need to have.”
Young, a physical education major, doesn’t think some of her classes work as well online.
“A lot of my classes are based on participation and take place in a gym,” Young said. “My professors have had to change the whole curriculum and figure out a way to put it online. It’s been a lot of lectures and essays, so it’s a lot more time consuming.”
Redshirt senior Megan Carter finished her degree in December and had been taking classes to keep her eligibility.
“It’s a little hard to stay focused,” Carter said. “I am taking ‘unnecessary’ classes, so it’s a little hard. But I just have to finish strong in these last few weeks.”
Netflix is a popular diversion.
“I’ve watched Rhythm + Flow and All American,” Blackford said. “I just watch whatever looks good. Sometimes I watch basketball and other sports reruns.”
“I watched Tiger King,” Young said. “I’m not really into documentaries, but my friends told me, ‘You have to watch this.’ By the end of it I was thinking, ‘Everyone’s just crazy.’”
Keeping in touch from a distance
In early April, the team posted a TikTok video, which begins with Thall and freshman guard Clare Kelly shopping in a grocery cart like an old Chef Boyardee commercial.
“As a kid I always used to watch that commercial,” Thall said. “Clare and I thought it would be a great idea to incorporate basketball into it.”
So the ball bounces off a shelf and down the aisle after they walk by. Then it cuts to Modkins chasing it down the street while spraying Lysol on it, then other players follow it down streets, through fields and on beaches until it bounces back to Thall and Kelly unloading their groceries.
“Hey Flashes, what do you want for dinner?” 🤷🏽♀️🏀 pic.twitter.com/4GSqS8r327
— Kent State Women’s Basketball (@KentStWBB) April 2, 2020
The players miss each other.
“They are some of your closest friends because you are with them every single day,” Thall said. “So it’s completely different not being able to see them.”
So the players keep in touch electronically.
“We have a group chat that we’re always talking with each other through,” Young said. “We talk about how to do certain workouts and what everyone is up to. We’re a pretty close team, so it’s not too hard to stay in touch.”
This week marked the start of online team meetings through Zoom.
“I’m so used to seeing them in person, so it was different seeing them on a computer screen,” Blackford said. “It was good to be able to see and connect with everyone.”
The meetings are used as a time to catch up.
“It’s nice to see everybody’s face in the same place,” Starkey said. “It’s a lot of information sharing, talking about their off-season workout schedule, encouraging them to finish strong academically and looking at what a summer schedule might look like. We give them an opportunity to ask questions and be together when we’re apart.”
The coaching staff also tries to talk to the players individually each week.
“We check in to see how they’re doing, how their family is doing and their mindset right now,” Recchia said. “We talk very little about basketball. It’s different times for everyone, so we are trying to help them process it and find their new normal.”
An online post by Athletic Director Joel Nielsen today gave hints about possible budget cuts and schedule changes ahead for Kent State and the MAC.
“As athletic departments plan and prepare for the road ahead, many in our industry have said, ‘College sports as we know it will never be the same.’
“While I tend to agree, it doesn’t mean that college sports won’t still be able to provide the opportunities and entertainment it’s been providing for over a century.
“Keeping that in mind, athletic departments will face difficult decisions in figuring out how to operate with less money. Staff sizing, travel restrictions, schedule modifications, and other budget reductions are logical options.
“Those decisions even become more difficult if the pandemic affects our fall sports. There is also uncertainty as to when the economy will be ‘reopened’ and how quickly it will rebound. That will affect fundraising, corporate sponsorships, ticket sales, merchandise sales, etc.
“At the direction of the MAC President’s Council, and under the leadership of Commissioner Jon Steinbrecher, the conference has been working on modifications to schedules, championships and other items.
“The recommendations will be reviewed and discussed over the next couple of weeks, and then shared with our students, staff and supporters.”
The University of Arizona, a far richer school than Kent State, is projecting a $7.5 million shortfall in athletic revenue. It is freezing all athletic spending, hiring and raises. Cuts in salaries, programs and scholarships are possible. (The measure were announced in a memo that was leaked to USA Today.)
Cincinnati announced Wednesday it was eliminating men’s soccer as a cost-cutting measure.
Earlier Wisconsin said that even though the NCAA had granted current seniors in spring sports an extra year of eligibility, it wouldn’t be able to afford scholarships for them.
Tough times ahead — for sports and the rest of us.
In the national news
I just starting subscribing to a site called CollegeAD.com. Here’s a link to some of today’s news, including a item on how the Group of Five is asking the NCAA for permission to cut back on sports and scholarships. Its worth a look (and following, if you’re interested in this kind of them.)
Up in the air
There are so many things unclear about what’s ahead for sports at Kent State and elsewhere. It certainly will be a long time before we get to any kind of new normal. The state will start to “reopen” sometime this summer. But it’s very likely it will be gradual, with fits and starts.
- Almost all sports have summer workouts. For example, all women’s basketball players, including incoming freshmen, usually have been on campus when summer school starts. The NCAA allows basketball teams to train and practice a total of 10 hours a week.
All Kent State summer classes are online. The university has announced there will be no campus activities until at least July 4. Does that mean summer workouts are dead? (I’d guess yes. Maybe something will happen in August if the “reopening” goes smoothly.)
- I’ve seen all sorts of speculation on the football season. It’s hard to imagine public health officials approving of 100,000 fans together in a Power 5 stadium (or 20,000 in a MAC stadium) in the first week of September. That’s especially true if there’s no proven treatment by then. (There almost certainly won’t be a vaccine until 2021.)
Could teams play in an empty stadium? Will practice be able to start on time in August? Would it be safe for 150 players, coaches and staff to be in the same place? How do you practice “social distancing” in an athletic practice?
I’ve seen stories speculating that the Big Ten might cut the football season to only conference games to save on travel. I’ve seen stories wondering whether football might be postponed to spring.
(I’m pretty sure that as football goes, so will other fall sports like soccer, field hockey and volleyball.)
- Some universities have begun discussion on whether campuses should remain closed and online classes might continue for the fall semester. If so, what happens to winter sports, all of which start official practice in October? Teams could be on campus — if the state and university deem it safe — to practice and take classes online.
But would universities allow that? Even if it were safe, could sports go on when on-campus group academic activities like musical and theater groups and science labs are suspended? Some classes simply can’t be taught remotely any more than a team can practice online.
I’m sure discussions on all these points and more are going on at Kent State and every other university in the country.
The image Asiah Dingle tweeted when she announced that she was headed to Stony Brook University on Long Island. She wore No. 3 at Kent State.
Former Kent State guard Asiah Dingle announced on Twitter Monday that she would join the women’s team at Stony Brook University, last season’s American East Conference champions.
Dingle, who was KSU’s leading scorer last season, said last week she was transferring from Kent State. She scored 785 points in her two seasons with the Flashes.
ANALYSIS: What Asiah Dingle meant to Kent State and what next season looks like without her.
Stony Brook went 28-3 last season, the best record in school history. The Seawolves were ranked 12th in the final Mid-Major Top 25 by CollegeInsider.com.
Dingle spoke publicly for the first time about the transfer in an interview with Boston Globe correspondent Greg Levinsky posted Tuesday.
The primary reason, she said, was the health of her father.
Most important, she said was “being closer to my family. In case anything happens to him, I’ll be able to come home right away.
“Besides that, [Kent State] wasn’t really a good fit for me. I love the people there, though, especially my teammates.”
Stony Brook on the north shore of Long Island, about 250 miles from Boston, about a four-hour drive. Kent is about 630 miles from Dingle’s home.
Dingle said she planned to apply for a hardship waiver to NCAA transfer rules to become immediately eligible to play for the Seawolves. The NCAA currently requires transfers to sit out a year. Such a waiver can be granted for an illness or other need to be near home.
The NCAA is actively studying on a “one-time transfer” rule that would allow any player to transfer once in her career and immediately be eligible to play. Some observers have speculated that a decision could come in May and that the one-time transfer could go into effect this summer.
If she’s eligible, Dingle should have a chance to move immediately into the starting lineup. Last year’s starter at point guard was Kalea Haire, a graduate transfer from Seton Hall. A second-team all-conference selection, she was second on the team in scoring and led it in assists.
The Globe story said Dingle was impressed that Stony Brook head coach Caroline McCombs reached out to her directly once Dingle put her name in the transfer portal.
“It’s a family atmosphere,” Dingle said.
On Monday, Stony Brook gave McCombs a contract extension through the 2024-25 season.
Asiah Dingle scored 785 points in her first two years, tied for fifth all-time for Kent State. (Photo by John Conley from KentWired.)
This post is more analysis than Thursday’s story about Asiah Dingle’s decision to transfer from Kent State women’s basketball team, which was a pretty straight report on the situation.
Asiah Dingle made a huge difference in her two years in a KSU uniform. She was the spark of coach Todd Starkey’s outstanding 2018 recruiting class. In her first year, she gave the Flashes a scoring threat at point guard we haven’t seen since Dawn Zerman, MAC player of the year in 2000.
I can’t imagine Kent State winning 20 games last season and 19 this year without her.
Her ability to drive the basketball changed Kent State’s offense. When the Flashes rallied in the second half to win their first-ever WNIT game last season, Green Bay had no answer. Her quick hands on defense could turn a game. At Akron this season, she had a steal and basket, then stole the inbounds pass and scored again in a sequence that changed the course of the game.
This season she came off the bench for her last 11 games and played the best basketball of her career. She made 54% of her shots in that time; in her freshman year, she made 37%. Her play was critical to Kent State’s late run that gave them a tie for the MAC East title and the third seed in the conference tournament.
Dingle announced Sunday that she would attend Stony Brook University on Long Island, which went 28-3 last season and won the American East Conference.
Only a technicality kept her from being the MAC’s sixth player of the year. To qualify, a player needs to start fewer than half of her team’s games. Dingle started 15 of the 28 games she played in. The winner of the award, Central Michigan’s Gabrielle Bird, averaged 8.6 points a game. Dingle averaged 13.3.
She averaged 12.8 points her freshman season. That was more than the freshman average of all but four of Kent State’s 1,000-point scorers, including Larissa Lurken, Jordan Korinek, Lindsay Shearer, Julie Studer and Dawn Zerman. Her 785 points tied Zerman for fifth in points scored in two years.
Dingle had her flaws. Her sometimes out-of-control play (“reckless turnovers,” Starkey said after one victory) could drive coaches and fans crazy. Fouls could keep her off the court for significant periods. According to analytics site HerHoopStats, she ranked 3,311 of 3,321 Division I players in fouls per game. She had very limited shooting range; She took only 20 three-point shots all season and made only two.
Starkey pushed Dingle hard to overcome those problems. I never saw a sign she resented that, but I’m not in the locker room, either.
Did she leave because she was unhappy at Kent State? The tweet announcing her transfer called her time her “an amazing two years,” and she thanked her coaches and teammates. That’s pretty standard stuff for transfer announcements.
I’m sure Dingle wasn’t happy when she was suspended for two games in early February. Starkey never said why; I heard much later that she missed a required team activity.
She never started after that. But the team was better for it. Before that time, the Flashes had gotten minimal points from their bench. Dingle gave them energy and production, and the team won eight of 11 games.
The way she played in that run was far from that of an unhappy player. Her attitude in postgame interviews was the same it had always been. She was never a particularly articulate interview, but she was fun to be around.
In an interview with Allen Moff of the Record-Courier, Starkey said Dingle was “trying to get closer to home, where she has family going through some significant health situations (not related to the coronavirus). I think that played a pretty big part in her decision.”
A source in Boston (Dingle’s hometown) said the same thing hours before I read Starkey’s statement. She does indeed have a close family member with major health problems, and Boston is 600 miles away, way too far away to easily go home for a quick visit.
I have no way of knowing how much her suspension or not starting had to do with her decision.
But my best guess is that the decision was at least as much family related as it was basketball related, and maybe a lot more.
Life without Dingle
The Flashes certainly will miss her. No team can lose a leading scorer with a unique style like Dingle’s without having to make adjustments.
The dynamics will be different. She was part of a cluster of players — her, senior guard Megan Carter, freshman wing Katie Shumate — who were very good at creating their own shots. And that’s a big reason why the Flashes were 295th in the country in assists.
More and better passing, I think, will help the team.
Mariah Modkins took over as starting point guard when Dingle moved to the bench. She is a calmer player, a better distributor and a better 3-point shooter. But most of the time, the Flashes were a better team with Dingle on the floor. Modkins averaged about 3.5 points in about 16 minutes per game. I’m glad Modkins is on the team, but I’m not sure she’s a full-time championship guard in Division I.
I think incoming freshman guard Casey Santoro will be very good, but you never know with freshmen. Sophomore Hannah Young scored 1,998 points in high school, but it took her almost a season and a half to find herself at Kent State.
Santoro, a four-time all-Ohio choice, averaged 25.2 points a game her senior year and scored more than 2,100 points in her career. Her high school statistics are quite similar to those of Miami’s Peyton Scott and Central Michigan’s Molly Davis. Both guards made the MAC all-freshman team this season.
Next year’s Kent State team is likely be more post-oriented than this year’s. Linsey Marchese, the team’s 6-4 transfer from Indiana, will be eligible. I’ve seen her in practice a number of times. She has the potential to quickly become one of the best centers in school history.
Dingle is the first front-line player to transfer in Starkey’s four years. Five players left over the last two years, but none were in line to play a major role on the team.
Her transfer is the most significant in the 30-odd years I’ve been following Kent State women’s basketball. The only other major loss I can remember is a guard named Jena Stutzman, who was one of the best 3-point shooters in school history. Unhappy with coach Bob Lindsay’s ultra-demanding style, she transferred to Ashland. There she led her team in scoring as it finished runner-up in the Division II NCAA Tournament in 2012.
In 2004, Andrea Csaszar, at 6-6 center the tallest player in Kent State history, chose to forgo a redshirt senior season to play professional basketball in Europe. It’s not quite the same as a transfer, but it was a big loss. Csaszar still holds the Kent State record for blocked shots in a game and a season and is second in career blocks..
Dingle starts one of her trademark hard drives to the basket. (File photo from KSU website.)
Asiah Dingle, the 5-4 sophomore guard who led Kent State in scoring last season, is transferring.
Dingle announced her decision on Twitter Thursday afternoon.
“Thank you, Kent State, for giving me the opportunity to experience a great university,” she wrote. “I especially want to thank my coaches, teammates and lifelong friends for an amazing two years. After much thought with my family, I will be transferring and pursuing a new home.”
Dingle scored 785 points in her two seasons in Kent and made the MAC all-freshman team her first year. She scored most of her points on aggressive drives to the basket and had quick hands on defense. She was fifth in the MAC in steals this season.
Dingle started at point guard for her first year and a half, She missed two games in early February with a disciplinary suspension, then came back as the first player off the bench.
She averaged close to 30 minutes of the game the rest of the season and played the best basketball of her college career, making almost 55 percent of her shots. Her play was integral to KSU’s late-season run to the MAC East title and their quarterfinal win in the MAC Tournament.
Dingle, Boston Globe player of the year in her division in high school, was a key member of coach Todd Starkey’s outstanding recruiting class of 2018. Starkey pushed her hard and made it clear she had areas to improve, especially in turnovers and fouls. But he also once talked of her as potential MAC player of the year some day.
Starkey said Dingle’s move wasn’t a complete surprise.
“She’s looking for a fresh start,” he told reporter Allen Moff of the Record-Courier. “She’s trying to get closer to home, where she has family going through some significant health situations (not related to the coronavirus). I think that played a pretty big part in her decision. We weren’t blindsided by it. We knew it was a possibility. We wish her all the best.”
Dingle’s transfer leaves a significant hole on the Flashes’ roster. For two years, she played handled the point guard spot far more than anyone else. Many teams had a hard time keeping her from driving to the basket.
Fellow sophomore Mariah Modkins started when Dingle became the first player off the bench. She’s a calmer presence at the point and a better 3-point shooter than Dingle, who made only two long-distance shots all season. But Modkins is generously listed at 5-1 and can struggle against taller guards. She averaged three points and two assists in about 16 minutes a game for the season and a little higher in conference play.
The Flashes have one of Ohio’s top high school point guards in its incoming freshman class. Casey Santoro of Bellevue is a 5-4 guard who scored more than 2,100 points in her high school career. She was first- or second-team all-Ohio for all four years in high school and district player of the year twice. This season she averaged 25.2 points a game.
Santoro’s high school record is quite similar to Central Michigan’s Molly Davis and Miami’s Peyton Scott, both of whom made the MAC’s all-freshman team.
Beyond Modkins and Santoro, there is no true point guard on the KSU roster. The third person who ran the offense last season was senior Megan Carter. Freshman Katie Shumate and sophomore Hannah Young, I think, played some point in high school.
Kent State still has three scholarships available. I’m pretty sure Kent State is still actively recruiting for the 2020 class, but most highly ranked players have committed by now. Looking for a graduate transfer is also a possibility.
There are literally hundreds of players in the NCAA’s transfer portal. But recruiting nationally is in some turmoil because of coronavirus quarantines. The NCAA has barred any off-campus visits by coaches and any visits by prospective players to campus. Few players want to commit to a school they’ve never visited.
“We’ve got scholarships available,” Starkey said in his interview with Moff. “We’ve got the room and ability to potentially bring in some other players. But we don’t think it’s absolutely essential. The only thing we’re really interested in is a good fit, a player that would potentially help us get significantly better.”
The Flashes return six of their high top scorers from last season, even without Dingle. Besides Santoro, they add Linsey Marchese, a 6-4 transfer from Indiana who was one of the top high school centers in the country, and 6-4 freshman Lexi Jackson, who averaged a double-double her last two years in high school.
The Flashes with pieces of the net from their East championship-win over Ohio.
(Front row) senior Megan Carter, senior Ali Poole, senior Sydney Brinlee, sophomore Mariah Modkins. (Second row) junior Monique Smith, sophomore Asiah Dingle, freshman Nila Blackford, junior Margaux Eibel.
(Third row) Assistant coach Morgan Toles, freshman Katie Shumate, sophomore Annie Pavlansky, junior transfer Linsey Marchese, sophomore Lindsey Thall, freshman Clare Kelly, sophomore Hannah Young.
(Back row) Assistant coach Mike McKee, basketball sports performance coach Brice Cox, student manager Camryn Howell, athletic training student Lizzie Spence, head coach Todd Starkey, associate head coach Fran Recchia, director of operations Alexa Golden and athletic trainer Reeona Curseen.
Eight games that told the story of the season, from a last-second win at the beginning to the Flashes’ first quarterfinal win in 10 years.
Sports are full of numbers, so annually I wrap up the season with what I think are key numbers from the season.
I try to keep the first paragraph in each item as clear as I can for casual fans. Then the statistics junkie in me starts to take over.
The score of Kent State’s MAC quarterfinal win over Buffalo, a game that defined a season. The Flashes had four players in double figures, solid defense, lots of points off turnovers and lots of points from the foul line — all things that were critical in the rest of KSU’s 19-11 season.
It had been 10 years since Kent State won a MAC Tournament game in Cleveland. In 2010, the Flashes beat Central Michigan 68-55 in the quarterfinals before losing to Toledo 51-49 in the semis.
The two previous years Buffalo had knocked KSU out of the tournament in the quarterfinals. Earlier in the season, the Bulls had beaten the Flashes twice by double digits and had won 17 of their last 20 games against the Flashes.
It was a most sweet victory.
Coach Todd Starkey has taken the Flashes to the quarterfinals all four years since he arrived in Kent in 2016. Before that, it had been six years since KSU had made it to Cleveland.
Kent State’s winning percentage with its 19-11 record. That’s its best since 2010-11. In Starkey’s four years, the Flashes are 71-56, or .559. That percentage is second only to Bob Lindsay (.620) among the six women and men who have coached Kent State women’s basketball. (Take out Starkey’s one bad season — 13-19 in 2017-18 — and his winning percentage is .611.)
Other overview numbers:
- RPI: 96 of 351 teams, according to RealTimeRPI.com.
In Starkey’s three previous season, it was 83 in 2018-19, 149 in 2017-18, 99 in 2016-17. The year before Starkey arrived, it was 318.
Top MAC teams were Central Michigan at 23, Ball State at 78, Ohio at 83.
RPI is based on a team’s record and schedule strength. Road wins and home losses get about twice the weight of home wins and road losses.
- Power ranking: 98. This broader ranking adds factors like margin of victory, record in recent games, injuries to RPI criteria.
- Strength of schedule: 118.
More points a game on offense.
Most of the following statistics for the rest of the post come from HerHoopStats.com, an analytics site. They include only games against Division I teams, which excludes Kent State’ s 92-36 win over Hiram.
Offensive numbers, compared to 2018-19.
- Points per game: 69.6 vs. 64.7.
- Shooting percentage: 39.4% vs. 36.7%.
- 2-point percentage: 43.4% vs. 39.5%. (Last year’s number was 308th of 351 Division I teams. This year’s was 191st.)
- 3-point percentage: 31.4% vs. 32.1%.
And even more:
- Turnovers: 13.8 per game (60th in country) vs. 15.3 (128th).
- Made free throws: 443 (15th in country) vs. 437 (51st).
- Fouls called on opponents: 21.6 per game (fourth in country) vs. 21.0 (seventh).
Opponents also scored five more points a game, though Kent State’s defense got decidedly better as the season went on. The numbers:
- Opponents’ points per game: 68.5 vs. 63.0. (In conference play, it was 67.0 vs. 64.4.)
- Opponents’ field-goal percentage: 39.4% vs. 36.7%. But in conference games, it was better than last season: 38.9% vs. 39.5.
- Opponents’s assists: 11.0 (60th fewest in country) vs. 12.2 (103rd).
- Blocks per game: 4.2 (56th in country) vs. 3.9 (86th).
Kent State’s assist total got slightly better, but it was still pretty weak.
The Flashes averaged 10.9 assists per game. Last season it was 10.6, which was 314th of the 351 Division I teams. This year’s average was 295th.
Starkey has said that part of the explanation is that Kent has a number of players who create their own shot without a pass. Think about Asiah Dingle’s drives to the basket, Megan Carter’s pull-up jumpers, and Katie Shumate, who can do both.
Still, other teams have players who create their own shots. And Kent State was still 56th from the bottom.
How much Asiah Dingle’s shooting percentage improved between the end of last season and the end of this season.
Last season she made 37.6% of her shots. In her last 12 games this year, when she was the first player off the bench, it was 54.7%.
Dingle stepped up her game in a lot of other ways, too.
Her assist rate — the number of teammates’ baskets on which she assisted — was 28.3%. In conference play it was 31.1%. Last season it was 21.3%.
Her assist-to-turnover ratio jumped to 1.01 from 0.77 and was 11th in the MAC this season.
She averaged 2.2 steals a game, up from 2.0. Her steal rate — the percentage of time she stole the ball on an opponent’s possession, was 4%, which was 57th in the country.
When you watch Dingle — who is very fun to watch, her weaknesses are clear. The statistics are even clearer.
She made only two 3-point shots all season (in 20 attempts). She averaged 3.1 turnovers per game. That ranked 3,109th out of 3,321 players. Part of that is that she handled the ball more than anyone on the team. But still….3,109th. And she averaged 3.7 fouls per game — 3,311th in the country. Only 10 players in Division I did worse.
Points per game scored by the team’s freshmen.
People thought it was a big deal when the 2018-19 freshmen scored 45% of Kent State’s points, third best in the country. Five freshmen averaged a total of 30.1 points.
This year’s three freshmen averaged almost as much — 27.2.
Nila Blackford averaged 12.4 points per game, Katie Shumate 12.3 and Clare Kelly 2.5.
When they were freshmen last season, Asiah Dingle averaged 12.9 and Lindsey Thall 10.3, Mariah Modkins 3.2, Hannah Young 3.1, and Annie Pavlansky 0.6.
Blackford and Shumate made the MAC’s all-freshman team. So did Thall and Dingle.
I wondered whether that had happened before. It has, and not all that long ago. In 2011, Central Michigan placed two people on the all-freshman. In 2012, the Chippewas placed three. In the three years the classes were together, they went 14-17, 21-12 and 20-12. CMU won the MAC Tournament in 2013.
This is the fourth time KSU has placed at least two on the all-freshman team. The first two:
- 1991: Michelle Burden, Kathy Carroll and Tracey Lynn, who was MAC freshman of the year.
- 1995: Gwen Hurley, Carrie Templin.
The number of points Kent State players scored off the bench in the team’s first six games.
The number of bench points in KSU’s last six games.
Dingle’s changed role had a great deal to do with that. She became the first player off the bench about two-thirds of the way through the season. Dingle, who led the team in scoring, still played starter minutes. Hannah Young also stepped up her production substantially in the second half of the season.
Having Dingle’s energy off the bench and Young’s solid presence was one of the key factors in KSU’s run to the MAC East title.
The number of points Megan Carter scored in her five-year career. It’s 18th in Kent State history. In her five years, she scored:
- 2015-16: Nine points in the three games she played before tearing her ACL
- 2016-17: 187 points (5.8 per game).
- 2017-18: 204 points (10.2). She missed the first semester — 10 games — for academic reasons.
- 2018-19: 524 points (15.9).
- 2019-20: 322 points (11.9).
Four current players are, barring injury, very likely to be 1,000-point scorers. In two seasons, Dingle has 785 points and Thall 689. In their first season, Shumate had 358 points and Blackford 334. If they continue at anywhere near that pace, the Flashes could have four 1,000-point scorers on the floor at the same time in the 2022 MAC Tournament.
Kent State ranked 18th in the country with 450 made free throws. The Flashes were 29th in free-throw attempts. In eight games — including their big win against Ohio and their quarterfinal victory over Buffalo, KSU’s margin at the foul line was greater than its margin of victory.
All that was in spite of a nine-game slump at the foul line in February that saw KSU shoot only 60.8% from the line and average only 10.5 points per game from free throws. In the other 21 games, the Flashes averaged 16.5 points from the line per game and shot 75.7%.
Free throws have been a speciality of Starkey’s teams. Over the coach’s four years here, Kent has been a cumulative sixth in the country in free throws made and 14th in free throws attempted
Five KSU players averaged in double figures: Dingle (13.3), Blackford (12.4), Shumate (12.3), Carter (11.9) and Thall (11.7). That totals 61.6. No other MAC team had so many double-digit scorers.
The last time that happened in Kent? Maybe the 1989-90 team, which averaged 93.6 points a game. More definitive numbers aren’t on the KSU website.
64 and 63
Lindsey Thall made 64 three-point shots and blocked 63 shots, totals that made her the only Division I player to reach 60 in both categories.
In her two seasons, she has 130 three-point baskets, already fifth all-time at KSU, and 116 blocks, tied for fourth in KSU history.
The Kent State record for 3-pointers in a career is 212, set by Larissa Lurken from 2013 to 2017. The record for blocked shots is 250 by Mary Bukovac between 1986 and 1989. Second highest number of blocks is 162 by Andrea Csaszar between 2000 and 2004.
Thall is Kent’s only player on the roster to start every game in her career.
Number of games Kent State’s starting six plus senior Ali Poole missed because of injury or suspension (just two games for suspension). Poole started 19 games and played in all 33 in 2018-19. She was KSU’s fourth-leading scorer. She partially tore her ACL in summer, then tore it again in January and had career-ending surgery. She scored only nine points in her senior year.
“Starting six” counts point guards Mariah Modkins and Asiah Dingle as starters. Modkins moved into the lineup for KSU’s last 13 games. Dingle played starter minutes off the bench (and led KSU in scoring).
Number of games Kent State’s top seven players missed in 2018-19.
The average home attendance for the Flashes this season, according to the MAC.
Is that a record? I think so, but records are sketchy, especially before 1990. In the 30-odd years I’ve followed KSU women’s basketball, the previous attendance peak was about 1,100 or 1,200 around the turn of the century.
During those years, Dawn Zerman, Julie Studer and Carrie Nance led the best teams in Kent State history.
A digression: Between 1997-98 and 2001-02, Kent State went 91-28, won four MAC East titles and two overall league titles, played Toledo all four years in the tournament finals, winning twice. The 1999-20 team went 25-6, the best record in school history. The 1997-98 team went 18-0 in the MAC.
(And yes, the Amy Sherry-led team in 1995-96 was as good as those teams. It went 24-7, tied for the MAC championship, lost to Toledo in the tournament finals and won its first-round game in the NCAA Tournament. But the previous year, the Flashes went 17-10; the next year they went 20-10.)
Back to this year’s attendance. Top crowds were:
- Ohio State: 4,272, almost certainly the largest crowd for a women’s game in Kent State history. (Again, records are sketchy.)
- Toledo: About 2,200. Official attendance was 5,218, the attendance of the men’s game, which was first of a doubleheader. One ticket got you in both games. But all those fans didn’t all stay for the women. So 2,200 is my estimate.
- St. Bonaventure: 2,104. At least 1,500 of the crowd was under 12 as part of a noon “Kid’s Day” game.
- Bowling Green: 1,961.
- Miami: 1,872.
Toledo, Bowling Green and Miami were all Saturday games, which draw about 400 or 500 more than Wednesday contests.
Four years ago, the Flashes surprisingly won the MAC East in Starkey’s first season. Average attendance was 867.
The report card:
Before the conference season, I wrote a post about “Seven Keys to the Conference Season.” After most games, I did a “report card” on how well the team did on those goals.
Here’s the season wrap-up. First number is for all games. Parenthesis is MAC games, which give a better idea of how the team was doing toward the end of the season:
- Score more than 70 points: 69.6 average per game. (69.0)
- Hold opponent under 70: 68.5. (67.1)
- Make 40% of shots: 39.4%. (40.0)
- Hold opponent under 40%: 41.1%. (39.1)
- Outscore opponent by five on free throws: Average of +1.7.
- Outscore opponent by five off of turnovers: +5.0 per game.
- Have 14 assists: 10.9.
- Get 10 points from the bench: 16.5.
Stats exclude game against Division III Hiram in line with national analytics sites, which count only games agains Division I opponents.