In a predictable prediction, Flashes ranked fourth MAC East coaches’ poll

Mid-American Conference coaches have picked Kent State to finish fourth in the Eastern Division this season, behind (in order) Buffalo, Miami and Ohio and ahead of Bowling Green and Akron.

That’s exactly the order the teams finished in the division last season.

The only surprise to me was that Miami got almost the same number of votes (61) as Buffalo (62). The Redhawks actually give five first place votes to Buffalo’s four. Ohio got three.

Buffalo reached the Sweet 16 in the NCAA Tournament last spring and finished with a 29-6 record. The Bulls, at 16-2, were a game behind Central Michigan in the overall conference standings and were the only MAC team to beat Central. But Buffalo lost three starters to graduation.

The two they have back are both on the preseason All-MAC East team: senior guard Cierra Dillard, who averaged 16.2 points a game and was spectacular in the NCAA tournament, and junior forward Summer Hemphill, who led Buffalo in rebounding and blocked shots while averaging 10.1 points a game.

Miami also had two preaeason first-team members in junior point guard Lauren Dickerson and senior wing Kendall McCoy. The Redhawks return five players who started at least 13 games.

Ohio has the fifth member of the preseason all-East team in sophomore guard Cece Hooks, the MAC’s freshman of the year last season. Hooks actually started just eight games; The Bobcats have five others who started at least 10.

Both Bowling Green and Akron have new coaches. BG fired coach Jennifer Roos after four straight losing seasons. Roos was Curt Miller’s top assistant when the Falcons dominated the MAC from 2003 to 2012. She was named head coach when he left for Indiana and went 24-11 in her first season and 30-5 in her second. But she never had another winning season.

Her replacement is Robyn Fralick, who went a spectacular 104-3, including a national Division II championship, at Ashland University. Her 2017-18 Ashkland team went 36-1 and averaged 98.5 points a game. BG returns three starters but lost leading scorer Carly Santoro, who graduated early and transferred to Ohio State.

Akron coach Jodi Kest retired in April. Her teams had been 9-21 in each of the last two seasons. Kest took over a dreadful Akron program in 2006-07 and built a team that won at least 19 games from 2012 to 2016. Her replacement is her top assistant, Melissa Jackson. Akron returns its top two scorers and six players who started at least 11 games.

In the MAC West, defending champion Central Michigan, which also went to the Sweet 16 in the NCAA tournament, was a unanimous choice to win the division. Chippewa guard Presley Hudson and forward Reyna Frost were both on the preseason all-division team.

Toledo was picked second, Eastern Michigan third, Northern Illinois fourth, Ball State fifth and Western Michigan sixth. Eastern is a bit of a surprise to me; the Eagles were last in the division last season but have had the top-rated freshman class in the conference in both of coach Fred Castro’s two seasons.

Ball State’s low ranking surprised me, too, until I discovered two of the Cardinals’ best players had graduated early and transferred. Point guard Carmen Grande, who led the MAC in assists last season, is at Ohio State, and forward Destiny Washington, the team’s second-leading scorer, is now at Florida Gulf Coast.

Joining the two Central players on the all-West preseason team are Eastern Michigan senior guard Danielle Minott, Northern Illinois wing Courtney Woods, and Toledo center Kaayla McIntyre.

(Kent State, by the way, plays West Division opponents Eastern and Western Michigan twice this season, plays Toledo and Ball State on the road and Northern and Central in Kent.)

Nine coaches voted Central to win the overall MAC title. Two voted for Miami and one for Ohio. Eight predicted Central would win the MAC tournament. Three chose Buffalo and one Northern Illinois.

 

 

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The shooting guard/cellist and other intelligence from the 2018-19 Flashes

Cartrer  Megan and cello

Megan Carter in action and with her cello, in photo she shared from several years ago. 

It’s not too often you catch an athlete completely off guard in a press conference, but redshirt junior guard Megan Carter was stopped short at the media day last week. It didn’t have anything to do with basketball.

“Tell me about the cello,” I asked in the last question of the event. (These things are not very formal.)

She paused.

“Definitely not expecting that question,” she said.

So she told us that she had been playing for 11 years (about half her life.) She actually had just gotten a new cello, she said with some pride. (“And she can sing, too,” said teammate Alexa Golden, the other player at the press conference. Megan blushed.)

I know no way to look this up, but there can’t be many Division I basketball players with her particular off-court skill.

Between being a full-time student and the long hours of a Division I basketball player, when does she find time to play?

“I set time out of my day for it,” Carter said, “just to escape from basketball and school, and kind of relax into myself.”

(Where did the question come from?  I had seen mention of it on social media sometime in Carter’s first three years here.)

Back to basketball

Carter and Golden were marquee players in former coach Danny O’Banion’s third recruiting class. Golden actually graduated last December after two-and-a-half years  She downplayed it (“I got a lot of college credit in high school”). But I’ve taught a lot of good students in 30 years and never had one graduate that fast. Golden will get her masters in sports recreation and management in May.

Carter, a public health major, was redshirted after she blew out her knee in the third game of her freshman year. So she has another year of eligibility.

Here’s what they had to say about the upcoming season:

What they’ve worked on to prepare for the season

Carter: “Consistency. I’ve just all around bringing it every day to practice. Last year I had a couple big games, and the next couple of games I would just disappear and have like two points.”

Golden: “Communication. We have so many new people on the team that you have to communicate. You can’t just lead by example.”

How they’ve worked with Kent’s five freshmen and two junior college transfers:

Carter: “Just setting the standard. We want to complete at a high level at all times.”

Golden, who coach Todd Starkey leads the team in toughness: “I’ve always been the type of player that will dive  for loose balls and take charges. You just show them.  They’re going to catch on. Then that’s the norm.”

On the up-tempo style of play Starkey says new players allow 

Golden: “I like playing a little faster and getting points in transition. People know that I like defense probably more than offense. So I always had the thought process that defense creates offense. Playing faster helps that.”

The newcomer who best guards Carter (KSU’s top returning scorer)

“Asiah (Dingle, the freshman point guard). She has very, very quick hands. I have to think and do stuff differently to score the ball.”

On Golden’s health (she had major leg problems in February and March)

“Things are OK.  I guess I’m getting old. So it’s sort of training room every day before practice and after practice, trying to stop the aging.”

 

 

 

Scenes from practice: Yes, there are more shooters. Yes, they are young

Golden

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.

 

 

 

If things go as planned, 2018-19 Flashes will be among KSU’s highest scoring teams of century

2018 opening 2

A first look at an image from the video introduction the team will be using this season. Players are (from left), redshirt junior guard Megan Carter, freshman guard Hannah Young and freshman point guard Asiah Dingle. (Photo from team Twitter feed.)

 

Here’s Kent State women’s basketball coach Todd Starkey’s formula for 2018-19:

  • Lots of good young players.
  • Better guard play.
  • Better shooters.
  • More points. A lot more points.

Starkey’s 2017-18 team was 13-19 and averaged 62 points a game — last in the MAC. It was seven points below the league average and 20 points below league-leading Central Michigan. It was nine points below KSU’s 71-point average in 2017-18, when the Flashes surprised everyone with a 19-13 record and a MAC East championship.

Getting back into the 70s is key to the upcoming season, Starkey said .

“Sixty-two points probably will put us right squarely on 5-13 again in the league,” Starkey said at the team’s preseason press conference this week. “We want to average well over 70 — the higher 70s —if we can.”

That’s a kind of basketball we haven’t seen in the M.A.C. Center in almost 20 years.

The last Kent State team to average 75 points was the MAC East championship team of 2001, which went 21-8 overall and 14-2 in the MAC. Only three teams, including the 2016-17 Flashes, have averaged more than 70 since. The Flashes went four years from 2011 to 2015 without averaging 60 a game.

Then add KSU’s losses to graduation: leading scorer Jordan Korinek (19.8 points a game) and third-leading scorer McKenna Stephens (9.9 points).

So where are all of these points going to come from?

Redshirt junior guard Megan Carter was Kent’s second-leading scorer at 10.2 points a game and, with more consistency, could average at least five points more. But punch is going to have to come from the newcomers, especially the five freshmen.

“They were recruited to have a big role right away,” Starkey said. “I think we have the ability with these new players to play faster, to be able to shoot the ball from the three-point line, and take a few more calculated risks out on the floor defensively to create some offense.”

Freshman guards Asiah Dingle, Hannah Young and Annie Pavlansky all averaged more than 19 points a game as high school seniors. Forward Lindsay Thall averaged 13.5 and led her team in three-point shooting. Guard Moriah Modkins was the assist leader for state-runner-up Solon High School, which outscored its opponents by 22 points a game.

“We’ve got people can make shots,” Starkey said. “It gives us a lot of offensive options.”

Last season Kent State’s offense went through the 6-2 Korinek, the fifth leading scorer in Kent State history. But when the Flashes were forced to score from the outside, things got tough.

KSU was last in the conference in three-point shots taken (16.5 per game) and baskets made (4.6). It was last in three-point percentage (27.7).

Shooting percentage by KSU guards on all shots was 30.6. By comparison, Western Michigan — which was in the middle of the conference standings and in shooting percentage — had guards who made 37.7 percent of their shots.

“That’s what really kept us away from being over .500,” Starkey said. “. So we addressed it recruiting. Now it comes down to whether they can make those shots in games.”

College basketball, the coach said, “is a guard’s game.”

“Your guards have the ball in their hands the majority of the time,” he said. “So if your assist/turnover ratio isn’t very good, if you can’t shoot the ball from the perimeter, if you can’t create shots for your teammates, it really limits what you’re capable of doing.

“This year we have a much wider array of possibilities because our guard play, talent level and depth is significantly better.

“We’ll have to get creative in post scoring and interior scoring, but not all interior scoring is done by post players with their back to the basket. Interior scoring also comes off of drives and finishes at the basket. It comes from dump-off passes to post players.”

Question marks for Starkey are defense and rebounding.

College defense is really new to seven of our players,” he said. “So we’re really teaching it from the ground up, and there are going to be some gaps.”

But, he said, “we actually have the ability to be more talented defensively once they’ve learned things.”

Rebounding, Starkey said, is likely to follow the pattern of his first two years.

“We haven’t really had a natural rebounder,” the coach said. “But we also haven’t been at the bottom of the league, either.”

The last two years KSU has had three players average between six and eight rebounds a game. The Flashes actually were second in rebounding margin in the MAC last year and sixth in 2016-17.

One thing that will help rebounding is the return of 6-4 senior Merissa Barber-Smith, who missed the entire conference season last year with a medical issue. “Her rebounds per minute have been the best on our team over the last two years,” Starkey said.

The 6-2 Thall was a good rebounder in high school; Sydney Brinlee, a 6-foot transfer from Highland Community College in Kansas, was the second-leading rebounder on a team that was runner-up in the Division II Junior College NCAA tournament.

But she and six of her teammates have never stepped onto a court for a Division I game.

Mental toughness — the toughness that gets you through a long college season — is probably going to be the biggest key,” Starkey said. “We just don’t know what that’s going to look like until they’re tested.”

The team’s first tests will be doozies. The Flashes open on the road at North Carolina on Nov. 9 and North Carolina State on Nov. 11.

More coverage is coming

I’ll be writing a lot more between now and the team’s open exhibition against Slippery Rock on Sunday, Nov. 4, at the M.A.C. Center.

There’s more from the preseason press conference, including some specifics  on individual players I hadn’t heard before. I’ve got some observations from practice last week, then was able to interview some of the freshmen. And senior guard Alexa Golden and redshirt junior Megan Carter had some interesting things to say at press day.

 

 

 

 

 

A guide to the (very) new roster: 5 freshmen, 2 transfers, 2.5 returning starters

Freshmen

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:

Point guards

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.)

Post players

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.”

Notes

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.

With half a squad of new faces, Flashes open 2018 practice Sunday

Team 2018

The 2018-19 Flashes: (Front row) freshman guard Mariah Modkins, sophomore guard Margaux Eibel, freshman forward Lindsey Thall, senior center Marissa Barber-Smith, senior guard Alexa Golden, junior guard Ali Poole, freshman guard Asiah Dingle. (Back row) junior guard Megan Carter, freshman wing Annie Pavlansky, sophomore forward Monique Smith, sophomore center Amanda Sape, junior guard Jessica Wallis, junior forward Sydney Brinlee, freshman Hannah Young. (Photo from KSU website) 

At a Kent State volleyball game earlier this month, I watched with a big crowd that included a lot of other student athletes.

At one break, I asked a group in front of me what team they were with.

“Women’s basketball,” one replied.

That was embarrassing.

Between games and practice, I’ve seen about as much of the team as any fan in the last five years.  I’ve written thousands of words about them. I’ve done dozens of interviews with team members.

But I didn’t recognize any of the four players in front of me.

We’re going to have to learn a lot of new faces this season.

Seven of the 14 players on the roster are new to the team this season. Five are freshmen, members of one of the best recruiting classes in school history. Two are transfers from top junior college programs.

Official practice for the 2018-19 season starts Sunday. The team’s first game is at North Carolina Nov. 9.

Coach Todd Starkey calls himself “cautiously optimistic” after working with the players since June. NCAA rules allow four hours a week of regular practices in summer and early fall, plus another six hours of conditioning.

“I think we’re further along than I anticipated,” Starkey said in a pre-season interview.

Starkey said the team devoted much of the summer to acclimating its new players to college level basketball.

“I don’t care how good a high school player you are,” Starkey said. “You haven’t haven’t played against a team that has a college-level player at all five positions and more college-level players coming off the bench. Typically when you’re playing high school rate you, you may be playing against just one other college player.”

The coach said the new players bring a different skill set and more athleticism than the players he inherited when he became head coach in April 2016. In his two years, every regular starter on his teams (32-32 overall) was recruited by former coach Danny O’Banion.

A quick reminder of the team’s personnel:

Gone through graduation are three four-year starters — leading scorer Jordan Korinek, forward McKenna Stephens and point guard Naddiyah Cross. The only other forward to see significant time the second half of last season, Zenobia Bess, talso graduated. Tyra James, who fought knee injuries for four years, and freshman Kasey Toles, transferred. Sophomore point guard Erin Thames, who was on the roster throughout the summer, wasn’t there when I checked Saturday.

Returning starters are guards Alexa Golden and Ali Poole. Guard Megan Carter was KSU’s first player off the bench last season and was second on the team in scoring (10.2 points per game). Also back after missing the entire conference season with a medical issue is 6-4 center Merissa Barber-Smith.

Sophomores Monique Smith, Margaux Eibel and Amanda Sape return. None of them averaged more than eight minutes a game last season.

The new players:

  • 5-foot-4 point guard Asiah Dingle, the Boston Globe’s high school player of the year in Massachusetts last season.
  • 5-10 guard Hannah Young, a four-time all-Stater from Virginia and player of the year in her division when she was a junior.
  • 6-2 post Lindsey Thall, who helped lead Strongsville High School to its first sectional final in second time in school history last season.
  • 6-foot guard-forward Annie Pavlansky, a third-team all-stater (second team as a sophomore) from Lakeview High in Cortland.
  • 5-1 point guard Mariah Modkins, the quarterback of the Solon High School team that went 26-3 last season and lost in the state finals by four points.
  • 6-foot junior college transfer Sydney Brinlee, who was the second leading rebounder on a Highland Community College (Highland, Kansas) team that went 35-1 and lost in the semifinals was runner-up in the Division II junior college tournament last season.
  • 5-10 junior college transfer Jessica Wallis, who players on a Walters Community College (Morristown, Tennessee) team that sent 30-6 and made the quarterfinals of the Division I junior college tournament.

We’ll do a detailed position-by-position look at the team in my next post.

The newcomers give the team the most depth Starkey has had in Kent, and that opens up more possibilities offensively and defensively.

“The thing about quality depth is that you can roll the dice a little more,” Starkey said. “A lot of times on the perimeter last year we were relying almost exclusively on whether Megan Carter had a good offensive day. This year we’ve got a lot of shooters.”

On defense, he said, fans can expect “more of a risk-reward” style of play.

“We’ve been very conservative defensively our first two years,” Starkey said. “We didn’t think we had the personnel to be able to take a lot of risks. So we needed to defend the basket and tried to force teams to take tough shots,”

Defense, the coach said, has been the toughest adjustment for most of the freshmen. Most high school players learn a basic man-to-man or zone defense. Starkey’s Kent State defenses emphasize, for example, denying a player access to a spot on the floor as the other team tries to run its offense.

Starkey said the athleticism of many of the newcomers will allow the Flashes to be more free-flowing and less-scripted.

“This summer we let them play with minimal restrictions and have a lot of freedom to make mistakes and learn each other,” he said. “We wanted to establish what we’re capable of doing, learning each other, staying aggressive.”

The new players, Starkey said, have meshed well off the court, shown ability and carry themselves with confidence in practice.

But, he said, “I don’t want to get ahead of ourselves,” he said. “None of our freshmen have won a single game in college. There’s certainly talent there, but they’re untested. They haven’t proven a thing yet.”

From left: women’s assistants Fran Recchia, Morgan Toles and Mike McKee.

New titles for coaches

All three of Starkey’s assistants got new titles this summer.

Fran Recchia is now associate head coach. It’s a title that has become popular over the last 20 years, and is a team’s top assistant. Recchia has essentially been doing the job since at least December 2017, when Pat Mashuda left after just seven months at KSU. Mashuda, like Starkey, was a Division II head coach in North Carolina (Chowan for Mashuda, Lenoir-Rhyne for Starkey). The Flashes ended their surprisingly 19-13 season with two assistants, plus director of basketball operations Allison Seberger. It was one more remarkable thing about a remarkable season. Recchia played basketball at Virginia Tech and was an assistant at Radford University in Virginia before she came to Kent State. Starkey said he has turned much of the scheduling of games to Recchia and included her more in the kind of administrative duties that could help her prepare to be a head coach.

Recchia turns her title of recruiting coordinator over to Morgan Toles, the Flashes No. 2 assistant. Toles joined Starkey’s staff after being a graduate assistant at Florida State. She was a starting point guard at Auburn and Florida State and coaches point guards at Kent State. In 2017, Toles was named to the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association (WBCA) Thirty Under 30 list, which recognizes 30 up-and-coming coaches age 30 and under. All the coaches recruit heavily, but Toles job includes  keeping track of players KSU is evaluating, make suring letters and emails get sent out to recruits, and coordinate visits to AAU tournaments.

Mike McKee picks up a new title of assistant coach for player development. McKee starred for KSU’s men’s team as a wing from 2006-2010 and was director of basketball operations — the almost-assistant coach who can’t recruit off-campus — for the men when Starkey hired him as an assistant a year ago. The move from from men’s to women’s coach is one Starkey himself made earlier in his career and is fairly unusual is college basketball today. Though a wing as a player, the 6-foot-6 McKee coaches post players for the KSU women. He would sometimes guard all-MAC forward Jordan Korinek (who was about 6-2 or 6-3) in practice last season.

Starkey praises his staff as often in interviews and called Recchia, Toles and McKee “three of the best young assistant coaches in the country” in the release announcing the changes. The coaches really do seem to like each other and their players and work well together.

The titles likely won’t change practice or game duties. They do more money; Kent State has a history of underpaying assistants in many sports.

North Carolina to New Jersey: A look at KSU’s 2018 non-conference opponents

Here’s the promised game-by-game analysis of Kent State’s non-conference schedule for the upcoming season.

Kent State was 13-19 last season, 5-13 and 10th in the 12-team Mid-American Conference. The Flashes lost three starters, including all-MAC forward Jordan Korinek, the team’s leading scorer. They return second-leading scorer Megan Carter and three-year starter Alexa Golden. A strong freshman class includes point guard Asiah Dingle, Massachusetts player of the year as a senior, and Hannah Young, a four-time all-state guard in Virginia.

Kent’s RPI last season was 149 of 349 Division I schools. RPI is a rating system based on a team’s record and strength of schedule. Five of the Flashes’ Division I non-conference opponents had better RPIs last season. Five had worse.

SLIPPERY ROCK

12-16 in Division II in 2017-18. Tied for 10th in 18team Pennsyklvania State Athletic Conference with 10-12 record.

This is the first exhibition game since Todd Starkey became coach three years ago. The NCAA allows an exhibition and a closed scrimmage or two closed scrimmages. Scrimmages are usually against neighboring Division I schools and provide better competition. Exhibitions are against non-Division I schools but give fans a chance to see the team. KSU had a closed scrimmage against Cleveland State in Starkey’s first year and scrimmages against CSU and Xavier last year. Slippery Rock game is Sunday, Nov. 4.

KSU’s last exhibition was against Division III Hiram in 2015 and terribly one-sided. Slippery Rock, though not a particularly good Division II school, should provide better competition. (Division III schools allow no athletic scholarships. Division II allow the equivalent of 10 full scholarships, which could be split into some partial scholarships. Division I schools like Kent State have 15 full scholarships.)

AT NORTH CAROLINA

15-16 last season. Finished 12th of 15 teams in the Atlantic Coast Conference with 4-12 record. RPI 114.

In Sylvia Hatchell’s 32 years as head coach, the Tarheels have won a national championship, made the Final Four three times, the Elite Eight six times, and the Sweet Sixteen 14 times. But in the last three seasons Carolina has been 14-18, 15-16 and 15-16. The Tarheels return four starters, including all-ACC guard Paris Kea, who has the highest scoring average in school history at 18.3. Also back is 6-4 center Janelle Bailey, who was ACC rookie of the year last season. Game is Friday, Nov. 9.

AT NORTH CAROLINA STATE

26-9. Tied for fourth in ACC at 11-5 and tied for fourth in ACC. RPI 16. Lost to NCAA tournament runner-up Mississippi State in Sweet 16.

The Wolfpack lost their 6-2 leading scorer and 6-5 starting center, so they’ll be rebuilding their front line. But coming in are a 6-5 freshmen center, a 6-4 freshman forward, and a 6-2 freshman forward. All are rated in the top 15 in the country at their positions.  Game is Sunday, Nov. 11.

The North Carolina trip is a homecoming of sorts for Starkey, who was head coach at Division II Lenoir-Rhyne in North Carolina for nine years. It’s also near home for sophomore point guard Erin Thames, who grew up in Charlotte. Also from not far away is freshman Young, who played at Brookville High School in Forest, Virginia, about two hours away.

NORTHERN KENTUCKY

 9-22. Eighth in Horizon League with 6-12 record. RPI 256.

Lost to Kent State 59-54 in opener last season. Top three scorers and seven of top eight return. Three high school recruits who were on various all-state teams, including one 3,000-point scorer. Game is Saturday, Nov. 17, as part of Kent State Classic,

OAKLAND

15-16. Was 7-11 and seventh in Horizon League. RPI 195.

Just one player who started more than seven games returns, along with another who averaged 11 points, mostly off the bench. Seven-member freshman class includes top-ranked point guard in Canada and two all-state players, plus 6-4 forward. Game is Sunday, Nov. 18, as part of Kent State Classic.

YOUNGSTOWN STATE

16-16. Finished fifth in Horizon League at 11-7. RPI 154. Lost to SUNY Binghamton in first round of WNIT.

Penguins lost to Kent State 55-44 in Youngstown in second game of season last year and was 8-13 before going 7-1 in February. Leading scorer Sarah Cash is one of four returnees who started more than 10 games. Looks like good three-person freshman class, but top player blew out her ACL in West Virginia state tournament in March. Game is Tuesday, Nov. 20, in Kent.

DUQUESNE

25-8. Finished second in 14-team Atlantic 10 with 11-3 record. RPI 72. Advanced to WNIT Sweet 16.

This could be one of the best teams Kent State plays all season. The Dukes return all five starters from a team that went 25-8. They also have a player who missed all of last season with an injury but started 15 games as a freshman, along with a transfer from Maine who was sixth player of the year in the America East Conference as a freshman. One of the East’s better Mid-Majors, the Dukes have won at least 20 games nine of the last 10 years. They beat Kent State soundly twice during the Danny O’Banion years. Game is Wednesday, Nov. 28, in Kent.

AT WRIGHT STATE

23-11. Finished 12-6 and third in Horizon League. RPI 92. Lost to Toledo in first round of WNIT.

This is the fourth straight year the Flashes have played Wright State, and the Raiders have been very good competition. They’ve beaten KSU three of the four years; KSU’s win in Dayton two years ago was one of the best road wins of Kent State’s 19-13 season. Wright State has won 20 games eight of the last nine season but hasn’t been able to get by Wisconsin Green Bay to win the Horizon League. The Raiders return three starters but lost their two best — Horizon player of the year Chelsea Welch and Lexi Smith, who had 1,063 points and 840 rebounds in four years. Game is at Wright State on Sunday, Dec. 2.

AT ROBERT MORRIS 

25-8. Won the Northeast Conference with a 16-2 record. RPI 123. Lost in conference tournament finals and in first round of WNIT.

The Flashes played one of their best games of the year and one of their best defensive games in decades when they beat the Colonials 46-31 at Robert Morris in December. Robert Morris has two two straight Northeast Conference titles and 20 games in four of five years, but they have played weak schedules and are in a weak conference. Their strength of schedule last season was 313 of 349 Division I teams. The Colonials have two starters returning; losses included NEC player of the year Anna Niki Stamolamprou. Game is at Robert Morris on Friday, Dec. 7.

AT ST. BONAVENTURE

8-22. Finished 3-13 and 13th in Atlantic 10. RPI 260.

Kent’s second Atlantic 10 opponent lost their leading scorer but returns four others who started at least 19 games. The Bonnies also have a transfer who started 27 games at Charleston and two incoming freshman who won honors on New York City high school teams.  Game is Monday, Dec. 17, at St. Bonaventure.

AT NJIT

4-26, 2-12 and last in eight-team Atlantic Sun Conference.  RPI 339.

It’s officially the New Jersey Institute of Technology, but even the school website emphasizes NJIT. Highlanders’ RPI of 339 (of 349 teams) is the worst of all KSU opponents. Team has a new coach in Mike Lane, former top assistant at Bucknell, and returns six of seven top scorers. Game is in Newark on Friday, Dec. 21.

CLARION

7-21 in Division II and was 2-20 and last in 18-team Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference.

Flashes haven’t played a game like this in many years — a tune-up against a non-Division I school right before the conference season. Several other MAC schools play such games routinely. Clarion returns all of its key players but its leading scorer. Game is in Kent on Monday, Dec. 31.

So how will Kent do?

The Flashes could have as many as three freshmen, plus a junior college transfer, in the starting lineup. So it’s very hard to get a handle on this team yet. The incoming class is supposed to be one of best in school history.

Looking at the schedule:

North Carolina, North Carolina State and Duquesne look very hard to beat. Wright State is likely to be good again.

The Northern Kentucky, St. Bonaventure, NJT and Clarion games look winnable and Oakland, Youngstown State and Robert Morris look competitive.

That’s somewhere between 4-7 and 7-4 in the non-conference.

2018-19 non-conference schedule looks a little more balanced than last season’s

The 2018-19 schedule the Kent State women released last week looks a little easier and more balanced than last season’s.

The Flashes play fewer top teams and fewer weak teams.

We’re talking just about the non-conference schedule. The MAC, which was the eighth-best conference by RPI last season (out of 32), looks as good or better.

The non-conference schedule

With opponents’ records and RPI from last season

  • Sunday, Nov. 4: Slippery Rock (12-16 in 2017-18) (exhibition).
  • Friday, Nov. 9: at North Carolina (15-16, RPI 114).
  • Sunday, Nov. 11: at North Carolina State (26-9. RPI 16).
  • Saturday, Nov. 17: (Kent State Classic), Northern Kentucky (9-22, RPI 256)
  • Sunday, Nov. 18: (Kent State Classic): Oakland (15-16, RPI 195).
  • Tuesday, Nov. 20: Youngstown State (16-16. RPI 154).
  • Wednesday, Nov. 28: Duquesne (25-8, RPI 72).
  • Sunday, Dec. 2: at Wright State (23-11, RPI 92).
  • Friday, Dec. 7: at Robert Morris (25-8, RPI 123).
  • Monday, Dec. 17: at St. Bonaventure (8-22, RPI 260).
  • Friday, Dec. 21: at New Jersey Institute of Technology (4-26, RPI 339).
  • Monday, Dec. 31: Clarion (7-21 in Division II).

Schedule notes:

  • There are five home and six away games, plus a home exhibition.
  • The Flashes open with weekend games at North Carolina and North Carolina State of the Atlantic Coast Conference. They are the team’s only games against Power 5 opponents. KSU also had two last year — Stanford and Michigan.
  • Kent State plays three non-conference teams whose RPI was in the top 100 at the end of last season — North Carolina State (16), Duquesne (72) and Wright State (92).  Last season the Flashes played five teams in the top 100 — Stanford (13), Michigan (34), Gonzaga (37), Florida Gulf Coast (44) and Wright State (92). RPI rankings are based on a team’s record and strength of schedule.
  • The Flashes play two teams whose RPI last season was higher than 250 — Northern Kentucky (256) and NJIT (339). Last season the Flashes played four teams with an RPI over 250 — Northern Kentucky (256), Southeastern Louisiana (297), Detroit (327), Eastern Kentucky (315). (There are 349 Division I schools. Kent State’s RPI last season was 149.)
  •  North Carolina State reached the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament. Robert Morris,  Wright State, Duquesne and Youngstown State made the WNIT.
  • KSU non-conference opponents had a 166-169 record in 2017-18. Last year’s non-conference opponents were 185-177.
  • Kent plays its first Division II opponent — Clarion University — in Todd Starkey’s three years’s as coach. The Dec. 31 game is the last before MAC play starts against Eastern Michigan on Saturday, Jan. 5 in Kent.
  • Overall, KSU plays one fewer non-conference game than last season and no holiday tournament. (My impression is that the three-game tournaments the Flashes played the last two years counted as two games against the maximum number allowed by the NCAA.)
  • The Flashes do have a tournament of sorts — in Kent. The Flashes play Northern Kentucky and Oakland of the Horizon League on Nov. 17 and 18 in “Kent Classic.” The same opponents will play Akron on opposite days, still at the MACC. Starkey and former Akron coach Jodi Kent worked out an arrangement where Akron and Kent would alternate hosting the event. Last season’s “Akron Classic” was at the James A. Rhodes Arena. The idea is to cut down on travel expenses for visiting teams. The last time Kent hosted a similar event was in the early 1980s, when the Flashes had a “holiday classic” at Thanksgiving for about five years.
  • The non-conferences schedule has four Horizon League teams (Northern Kentucky, Oakland, Youngstown State and Wright State), two ACC schools (North Carolina and N.C. State) and two from the Atlantic 10 (Duquesne and St. Bonaventure). Robert Morris plays in the Northeastern Conference and NJIT in the Atlantic Sun.
  • In MAC play, the Flashes will play Western Division opponents Eastern Michigan and Western Michigan twice. They’re home against the West’s  Central Michigan and Northern Illinois and away against Ball State and Toledo.
  • Other than the North Carolina trip, it’s a very compact schedule geographically. Next farthest south is Wright State in Dayton, about a three-hour drive. Farthest trips west are Western Michigan and Ball State, both about four hours. Farthest east is Newark, New Jersey, against New Jersey Institute of Technology. Next farthest east is St. Bonaventure in Olean, N.Y., about a three-hour drive.
  • The schedule includes the first exhibition game of the Starkey era — a Sunday, Nov. 4, meeting with Division II Slippery Rock. Last year the Flashes had two closed scrimmages. His first season had one closed scrimmage.
  • After the opening exhibition, the Flashes play the two games in North Carolina, then four in a row at home, then four in a row on the road, then Clarion at home, then the MAC season.

I’ll run through the non-conference schedule game by game in the next post, with a little analysis on each opponent.

 

 

 

 

Three new Flashes: A freshman post from Long Island, 2 transfers from top junior colleges

Kent State added two transfers from strong junior college programs and a 6-2 post player from Long Island in the April signing period.

They are:

IJAH FLETCHER, a 6-2, 225-pound post from Hicksville High School in Nassau County, New York. She averaged 20.8 points a game as a senior, sixth in her county, which is one of New York State’s largest. I couldn’t find any other complete stats, but looking at box scores, she often had double digit rebounds. One game she had 21 rebounds and 16 points. An opposing coach called her “one of the top inside threats in the county.” She was honorable mention all state as a junior; I couldn’t find New York’s 2018 all-state teams online. Her high school team was 14-7.

The Flashes needed another post player. Their top three forwards in 2017-18 — leading scorer Jordan Korinek, McKenna Stephens and Zenobia Bess graduated. Top returner is 6-4 Merissa Barber-Smith, but she didn’t play the second half to he season because of a medical issue. As a sophomore, she showed potential to be a stronger rebounder and defender. Rising sophomore Amanda Sape, who is 6-3, also returns, but she played only eight minutes all season and scored one point. Sape averaged a double-double in high school but had shoulder surgery last summer and didn’t practice until just before the season started. The only forward among recruits who signed in November is 6-2 Lindsey Thall of Strongsville, who averaged 13.5 points and 7 rebounds as a senior and scored as much from the outside as the inside.

SYDNEY BRINLEE of Highland Community College in Highland, Kansas, is another post, albeit a somewhat undersized one. I saw her listed variously from 5-10 to 6 feet. She was the second leading rebounder (7.3 per game) on a junior college team that went 35-1 and lost in the Division II junior college national semifinals. She averaged 8.8 points a game on 50.2 percent shooting. At Latta High School in Ada, Oklahoma, she averaged 11.1, 8.8 rebounds and three blocks a game in her senior year on a team that went 24-8 and reached the state quarterfinals. I’m pretty sure she’s the first Kent State player from Oklahoma.

JESSEE WALLIS is a 5-10 guard from Walters State Community College in Morristown, Tennessee. She played on a junior college team loaded with players with Division I ambitions, and competition for playing time apparently was vicious. Wallis was injured a good portion of her freshman year and averaged 2.6 points per game last season. During her senior year at Rhea County High School in Evansville, Tennessee, she averaged 15.3 points, 5.7 rebounds and 1.6 steals per game and scored 23 points in a Georgia-Tennessee all=star game after her senior year. She’s supposed by be a good shooter who worked to improve her ball handling and defense at Walters. Her team went 30-6 and reached the final eight of Division I junior college tournament.

Researching Wallis and Brinlee gave me a little bit of a picture into top-tier junior college basketball. Both Walters State and Highland Community colleges are consistent major junior college powers.

At Walters State, only one player averaged in double figures on a team that scored 71 points a game; six averaged between 5.9 and 9.6 points. And this was team that won 30 games. The idea, it seems, is to give everybody exposure to four-year university coaches.

In an interview with Wallis after she signed with Kent State, Wallis’s hometown paper called the junior college “cutthroat basketball.” Wallis herself said it was “probably the hardest two years of basketball I’ve ever played.”

“Everyone is trying so hard not only to win but also trying to grab the attention of coaches,” she said. “These last two years have just been incredibly competitive the entire time.”

Brinlee started 35 of the team’s 36 games at Highland but averaged just 18.4 minutes a game. Twelve players averaged more than 10 minutes.

Wallis will be fighting for playing time at Kent State, too. KSU’s top three returning scorers are Megan Carter, Alexa Golden and Ali Poole — like Wallis, all shooting or wing guards. One of the Flashes’ best incoming freshmen is Hannah Young, a four-time  all-state player in Virginia. At 5-10, wing will be her logical position in college. Another freshman is 5-11 Annie Pavlansky of Lakeview High in Cortland, who averaged 21 points per game her senior year. Also in the mix is 5-11 Monique Smith, perhaps the best athlete in last year’s freshman class.

In the story about Wallis’ signing, Kent coach Todd Starkey said: “We already have some great dynamic guards, but we were looking for junior college players who could come in and provide some experience and great leadership. We know Jessee can do that and more for us.”

It’s very hard to evaluate what impact April signees will have on a team. An  overwhelming majority of the best players sign with colleges before the beginning of their senior year; they often verbally commit as much as a year earlier. I can’t remember the last time a late signee played a major role any time in her career at Kent State.

Junior college players are a different story. Because the forward positions are so wide open for the Flashes, I would guess Brinlee will play significant minutes. That need may create an opening for Fletcher, too, and Sape will in effect be repeating her freshman year.

And I wouldn’t be surprised if, with all those 5-10 and 5-11 wings, we saw some four-guard offense for the Flashes in 2018-19.

Two players transfer

Starkey had three scholarships to offer because two reserves on last year’s team have left the program.

One was Tyra James, a 5-11 wing who sat out two of her four seasons in Kent with knee injuries. She blew out one knee the week in the last week of practice before the first game of her freshman year. She came back the next season to be the team’s third-leading scorer. Last season she hurt the other knee before official practice started in October.

This season she was about the third person off the bench in non-conference play, barely played in the first 12 conference games, then played more than 20 minutes in five of the last six games. James had a lot of athletic ability. In the one year she played for former coach Danny O’Banion, she was often the one with the ball in her hands at the end of a close game. But she tried to make things happen so much that she almost always struggled with turnovers. She never quite clicked in Starkey’s system, either.

O’Banion mentioned her in the same breath with Korinek when she talked about that recruiting class, which was the former coach’s best. Had she not been hurt, things could have been different for her and the Flashes. My contact with her was always good; she worked hard to come back after every injury.

The other transfer out is Kasey Toles, who played in 11 games as a freshman, mostly in the non-conference season. She hurt her ankle early in MAC play and wasn’t on the bench for much of the end of the season. She scored 10 points in her Kent State career. Toles is the sister of Kent State assistant Morgan Toles.

The 2018-19 Flashes

So barring someone leaving the team late, here’s the roster for next season:

POST: 6-4 senior Merissa Barber-Smith,  5-11 junior Sydney Brinlee, 6-3 sophomore Amanda Sape, 6-2 freshman Lindsey Thall, 6-2 freshman Ijah Fletcher.

GUARD-FORWARD: 6-foot junior Ali Poole, 5-11 sophomore Monique Smith, 5-11 freshman Annie Pavlansky, 5-10 freshman Hannah Young,

SHOOTING GUARD: 5-9 senior Alexa Golden, 5-7 junior Megan Carter,  5-10 junior Jessee Wallis, 5-11 sophomore walk-on Margaux Eibel.

POINT GUARD: 5-6 sophomore Erin Thames, 5-3 freshman Asiah Dingle, 5-foot freshman Mariah Modkins.

By class, it’s:

  • Freshmen (6): Thall, Fletcher, Young, Pavlansky, Dingle, Modkins.
  • Sophomores (4): Sape, Smith, Thames, Eibel.
  • Juniors (4): Poole, Carter, Brinlee, Wallis.
  • Seniors (2): Golden, Barber-Smith.

 

From Strongsville to Virginia to Boston to Kent State: Core of Class of 2022 averaged 83 points a game

Kent State’s 2018 recruiting class looks as if it could be the best in school history.

KSU added three players — a freshman post player and two junior college transfers — in the late signing period earlier this month. I’ll wrap that up in the next post. But the five who signed letters of intent in November will be the core of the Class of 2022.

I wrote the coaches of the five players or sportswriters who covered them. Here’s what I learned:

Hannah 2

Hannah Young

5-10 guard-forward from Brookville High School, outside Lynchburg in south central Virginia

Young finished her career with 1,998 points in an overtime loss in the state quarterfinals. She was first team all-state in Virginia Class 3 for the third year in a row, Class 3 player of the year as a junior and second-team all-state as a freshman. Her teams went 97-12 over four years.

As a senior, she averaged 19.5 points, 7.8 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 3.5 steals and 1.3 blocks on a team that went 24-4.

As a junior, Young averaged 19.8 points and 7.9 rebounds as state player of the year in her class. Made 53 percent of her field goals and 43 percent of her three-point shots. Team went 27-2 and reached state semifinals.

As a sophomore, she averaged 18.8 points and 7.3 rebounds on the first team in school history to make the state tournament. As a freshman, she averaged 17 points a game on 21-1 team.

From Ben Cates, who covered her as a sportswriter for the News & Advance in Lynchburg:

“Hannah can post up inside, drive through the lane for high-percentage shots or drain shots from beyond the arc. A fierce competitor who cares for her teammates, she has always displayed a high degree of sportsmanship.

“Not only will Hannah go down as one of the most talented athletes in her school’s history, she will be remembered for her kind spirit and ability to lead effectively while serving as a role model for young students and athletes.”

Asiah 3

Asiah Dingle

5-3 point guard, Archbishop Williams High School, Braintree, Massachusetts (outside Boston)

Dingle averaged 19 points, 4.5 assists, five rebounds and five steals per game during her senior year in leading her team to the state championship. Boston Globe player of the year in Massachusetts. Dingle shot 52 percent on two-point shots and 25 percent on three-pointers.

She scored more than 1,500 points in her career, and her team won three state championships in four years.

In her junior year, she was the only 11th grader on the Globe’s all-scholastic team and averaged 20 points, six rebounds, five assists and five steals a game.

From her coach, Matt Mahoney:

“Asiah was the most dynamic player in the state. She had the ability to take over a game at any time offensively and defensively. As one sportswriter said at the state championship game, she has a smile on her face like she was in her backyard playing pickup. She just loves to play the game.”

Lindsey 2

Lindsey Thall

6-2 forward, Strongsville (Ohio) High School

Thall averaged 13.5 points, 7.0 rebounds. 1.6 blocks, 1.6 assists and 1.7 steals on team that went 21-5 and reached regional finals for the second time in school history. She led her team in three-point baskets (36) and three-point percentage (36.2) and overall shot 39 percent from the field. She was on Plain Dealer’s all-area first team, was third-team all-district, honorable mention all-state.

As a junior, Thall averaged 15 points, 8.3 rebounds and 3.1 blocks and once blocked 14 shots during a game. She was listed as a three-star recruit by ESPN. Her mother, Dawn, is one of the leading scorers in Strongsville basketball history.

From her coach, Jeff Eicher:

“Kent State is not only getting an outstanding basketball player but, more importantly, an outstanding individual. Besides Lindsey’s skills on the court, her positive leadership qualities were the main reason we had one of the best season’s in school history.

“She is a versatile player who can pass very well and shoot the three-point shot.  Inside she is a great rebounder and has the instincts and timing to block shots. As a leader, she makes everyone feel they have an important role on the team. Lindsey is a program changer. I can’t wait to see what she accomplishes at Kent.”

 Annie 2

Annie Pavlansky

5-11 guard-forward, Lakeview High School, Cortland (Ohio)

Pavlansky averaged 21.4 points, 8.8 rebounds and 1.8 assists a game in her senior year. She had a 36 percent field goal shooting percentage and 85 percent free throw percentage on team that went 9-13. Pavlansky was all-state third team her senior year, second team her sophomore year, and honorable mention as a junior, when she was hurt half the season.
She averaged 19.1 points as a junior, 15.8 as a sophomore, 13.1 as a freshman, with rebounding average between 8 and 9 every year. She has reputation as an excellent shooter.
From her coach, Jason Senedak (via Warren Tribune sportswriter John Vargo):

“Annie is the most deserving athlete I have ever had the privilege of coaching. Her work ethic can only be overshadowed by her willingness to be the best teammate possible.

“In her senior year, she was the sole focus of the opposing team’s defensive strategies. Annie handled that burden with great maturity and strength. Her leadership helped bring a very young core of varsity athletes into the game of basketball. Throughout this season, the team looked to Annie for everything, and she always delivered her best as an athlete and person.

“I could always depend on her to set the best example as a leader. She is one of the best students that has passed through Lakeview High School.”

 

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Mariah “Ri” Modkins

5-foot point guard, Solon (Ohio) High School

Modkins averaged 9.6 points, 2.6 rebounds, 4.6 assists and 2.3 steals on a team that went 26-3 and lost in the state finals by four points. The Comets averaged 22.2 points more than their opponents, so, the writer who covered them said, Modkins and the other starters rarely played a lot in the fourth quarter.

Modkins played with four other senior starters, including all-stater Valencia Myers, who is bound for Florida State. So her role was definitely not as a scorer.

From Tony Lang, who covered her as sports editor of the Solon Times:

“Mariah Modkins is a kinetic guard who provides relentless effort in all facets of the game. She has the ball-handling skills to break ankles and create space for her go-to running floater, she shoots the three with confidence and her on-ball defense produces turnovers time and time again.

“She draws charges, anticipates passing lanes and simply competes at a high level from start to finish. And perhaps most notable, Modkins understands and accepts her ever-changing role. She doesn’t care about individual spotlight. She does whatever it takes to help her team win.”

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When the class was announced in November, I did two long posts on how the Flashes recruited these five players. Here’s the post on Young and Dingle, and the one on Thall, Pavlansky and Modkins.