By Mike Esse, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - In their final game at the Bryce Jordan Center, the Lady Lion senior class ended their home careers in style in front of a crowd of over 14,000 in the seventh annual Pink Zone at Penn State game.
It was the last game for the senior class of five that guided Coquese Washington's program back to the top of the Big Ten conference, while supporting breast cancer survivors and their fight against the disease.
So, it was only fitting to not only to celebrate the senior class and honor survivors of breast cancer, but clinch a share of the Big Ten regular season title, as well.
That was exactly how Alex Bentley, Mia Nickson, Gizelle Studevent, Nikki Greene and Marisa Wolfe wanted to end their careers; at home in front of the fans that saw them transform the program onto a national stage.
"I think that when we reflect, we came in with a vision, Coquese's vision, and we all came in with the same thoughts of getting the program back to where it was," said Nickson. "I think we all bought into [the vision] and worked really hard. The pieces just kept adding and we kept working hard and kept listening [to coach Washington]."
When the group of five came to Penn State, they led the Lady Lions back to postseason play in the NIT in their first season.
Then, in year two, it was to the second round of the NCAA tournament. One year ago, they lead Penn State to the Big Ten regular season title and to the Sweet 16.
In 2012-13, they hung another banner and are continuing to make strides toward another deep run into the tournament after clinching the regular season conference title on Sunday.
However, one member of the senior class had been unable to join them on the floor this season due to an injury and that is another reason why it was a special day at the BJC. Marisa Wolfe saw her first action of the season as Washington started all five of her seniors together, one last time.
"Well, we had to get clearance from the doctors to be out there for 30 seconds," said Washington. "This senior class has gone through a lot, and she earned and deserved the opportunity to wear her uniform one last time. There was no way we weren't going to try and find a way for her to be on the court today."
It was only for 31 seconds, but it was special, not only for Wolfe, but for her teammates as well. Bentley called it amazing and Nickson showed how it was an emotional moment for her during the postgame press conference.
These moments, on and off the court, define the Lady Lion class that laced their shoes up for the last time in their home arena on Sunday.
By being selfless, goal oriented and leaders, they took the vision created by their head coach and made it a reality.
"They have meant so much to this program," said Washington about her senior class. "Their faith and their belief in Penn State has been tremendous. This class said 'yes' to Penn State when we were in the midst of the worst period of Lady Lion basketball.
"It takes a lot of faith and trust and confidence to want to come put a program on your back and on your shoulders. These five ladies did that. They said they would change the program, the expectations, the culture and the way that people think about Lady Lion basketball across the country."
As for the part about being selfless, Washington told the media that Senior Day wasn't originally going to occur on the same day as the Pink Zone event. However, her seniors vetoed that plan because of the appreciation they had for those that attended the yearly event.
"They wanted to share this moment with the community and all the people that support our program and our dreams," said Washington. "That's who I am proud of. Those women are going to leave here as Penn Staters and will continue to make this university proud."
Their leadership will not go unnoticed either, as the underclassmen now have a glimpse of what it takes to be elite and junior guard Maggie Lucas recognized that after the game.
"We are going to miss these seniors and we just want to keep it going as long as possible because I don't want my last game to be with these seniors anytime soon," said Lucas. "We just want to keep battling and keep getting better."
Penn State will finish their regular season on the road against Minnesota and Nebraska before heading to Hoffman Estates, Ill. for the Big Ten tournament at the Sears Center.