By Mike Esse, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - As a reserve player a year ago, Ariel Edwards showed, at times, the player she could become as her Penn State career evolves. Five games into the 2012 season the junior forward is beginning to unveil what she will add as a starter to an already star studded starting lineup.
Edwards posted a career-high 24 points on 11-for-16 shooting against the University of Detroit on Nov. 23. Not only was it a career day for Edwards, but it also lifted a weight off of her shoulders as she continues to learn her role as a starter.
"It is a weight off my shoulders," said Edwards. "I feel like I have accomplished something and I know that I can do it again. It is a benchmark to keep and work towards."
"Anytime you have the opportunity to get a career high is an exciting time in your career," she said.
Her performance against Detroit came as no surprise to teammate Maggie Lucas simply because of the dedication Edwards puts into perfecting her craft on the court.
"She has grown so much and her confidence has gotten a lot better," said Lucas. "It's not surprising when she puts out moments like that because we see it in the gym everyday."
In 2011, Edwards played 24.1 minutes per game and averaged seven points. She ended up being one of the top bench players for head coach Coquese Washington a season ago. This year, entering the starting lineup and getting starter's minutes has been a change to what Edwards has done during the first two years of her career.
By being able to post a 24-point night early in the season Edwards has gained confidence in her game as she still learns her role and confidence might be key for a player that can make a huge impact on both sides of the floor.
"You come off the bench for two years and get used to what that role is like and then you become a permanent starter and your role changes a little bit," said Washington. "She has and still is adjusting to that role and to have the game against Detroit where her shot is falling and things are going well for her is certainly a big confidence boost for her.
Edwards has spent time in the gym to work on how she fits on both sides of the floor with the other Penn State starters and her biggest area of focus has been her play on the defensive side of the ball.
Lucas called Edwards the most versatile player on the team and this versatility can turn defense into offense, not only for her but also for other lethal Penn State weapons like Lucas. The aggressiveness of Edwards and use of her long arms and active hands has improved her defense from a year ago and has opened opportunities for her to shine offensively, as she did against Detroit.
"My major role is to be a defensive player, a defensive stopper," said Edwards. "So when I start games, the first thing I think about is that my defense with turn into my offense. I try to get deflections or steals and help pressure the other team to make mistakes."
Creating steals and forcing turnovers is a big reason why Edwards is a part of the starting lineup for Washington and being able to get into transition off of a forced turnover with guards like Alex Bentley and Dara Taylor getting her the ball, the open shot has been there for Edwards.
By being able to see how hard the other four starters work, Lucas in particular, Edwards knows exactly what she needs to do to reach her peak talent in her junior season.
"Even just the fact that Maggie has been in here all the time kind of encourages you to be in the gym all the time, too," said Edwards. "Just seeing (Maggie) in the gym knowing that she is working hard reminds me that I need to continue working hard, too."
Edwards will look continue to build on her career performance against Detroit as Penn State returns home to the Bryce Jordan Center to face Farleigh Dickinson at 2 p.m. on Sunday, Dec. 2.