By Mike Esse, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - For the second time in two weeks Coquese Washington will return to her home state of Michigan with a big conference road test looming. Two weeks ago it was in East Lansing where Penn State (14-2 4-0) took care of the Spartans, 76-55, and have since won three straight conference games at home.
Monday, however, the Lady Lions will be in Ann Arbor where a No. 25 ranked upstart Michigan (15-2 4-0) team awaits No. 8 Penn State with plans of upsetting the blue and white and garnering their first signature win of the season.
So, the question must be asked, does anything change for Penn State when they hit the road in conference play? Washington gave the easy answer: No.
"Nothing changes for us," said Washington. "We're a pretty good road team and we have been for a while now. We're very competitive, so we won't change anything in terms of our preparation going into Michigan."
With a 5-2 record on the road and both losses against teams that have been ranked in the top 25 for most of the 2012-13 season, the confidence is there for Washington's squad, especially with a team that boasts nine upperclassmen.
Even with the experience of an Alex Bentley or a Nikki Greene, the Penn State coaching staff still has to remind their players of the importance of each game as the bulk of the Big Ten schedule awaits them.
"They're teenagers," said Washington. "We have to remind them of the things that are at stake and what's important for every game. Every game has an impact on our season so we talk about what those things are so we keep them focused and dialed in."
Washington called it a luxury to have players with experience at the different venues across the Big Ten, something that her team has relied on in the past and will continue to do in 2013. They have been able to become familiar with the Big Ten's elite teams and more importantly the individual players on each team.
"Our juniors and seniors have played a lot of minutes for us and that's a luxury," said Washington. "They have played in all the venues on the road and have played against all of the players we are going to see."
For senior guard Gizelle Studevent and senior forward Mia Nickson they are used to playing at places like Mackey Arena or even the Crisler Center in Ann Arbor and that familiarity allows them to play similarly to the way they would at the friendly confines that the Bryce Jordan Center has become.
Both players stressed the importance of having confidence in one another when they travel on the road in the Big Ten and that confidence has been able to grow this season after wins at Texas A&M and Michigan State.
"The biggest thing is having confidence in our team, especially going on the road," said Studevent. "You have to have confidence in your team and believe in your abilities. We are a really good team, so when we go into another team's house we are confident in our abilities and the environment doesn't affect us."
For Nickson, it is simple. No matter where they wind up on the road it all comes down to execution.
"We just have to go out and take care of business," said Nickson. "The Big Ten is one of the best conferences in the nation, so you always have to pay your 'A' game no matter where you are or who it is. You just have to make sure you are focused and ready to go."
Nickson, Studevent and company have been in these situations before with a big game on the road with conference implications. Now, in their final go around in conference play each leader has a different role on the road.
There is Bentley who gets out and runs and brings energy or senior Marisa Wolfe, who has been sidelined all year with concussion like symptoms and Nickson said still keeps the team focused on the bench. No matter who it may be, the Lady Lion veterans have become important as their tough conference schedule continues.
"We are very versatile in the leadership department," said Nickson. "We just try to lead by example whether I get a tough rebound or something and feed off of that. It's really good, especially after the years we have been together."
That leadership and confidence will be put to the test on Monday, Jan. 21 when two of the three unbeaten teams in Big Ten play square off. The Nittany Lions and Wolverines will tipoff at 6:30 p.m. on the Big Ten Network.