By Tom Shively,
GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - As the final media session of the season unfolded last week at the Bryce Jordan Center, there was a sense of quiet optimism present with the Lady Lions. While the team faced its fair share of adversity throughout the year, plenty of positive trends emerged as the team looks toward making a run come next winter.
The Lady Lions had no seniors on the 2017-18 roster which, despite not having that definitive veteran leadership presence, allowed several young players to expand their roles and enhance the way they could contribute to the team.
"There were some things that I was pretty pleased with throughout the course of the season," head coach Coquese Washington said. "Alisia Smith's growth was one, I thought as a freshman she had a lot more post presence for us and we definitely needed that. Amari Carter made a big jump from her freshman year as well, being a double-digit scorer and being more aggressive in finding her way."
For Carter, she saw this season as an opportunity to grow together, and she knows how important this offseason is if the Lady Lions want to come out with the right energy next year.
"It helps a lot, having everybody coming back," Carter said. "We know each other's tendencies but we also plan to get better over the summer, have people work on their games. We're going to adjust to new strengths and new ways that people have improved in the offseason."
The Lady Lions are searching for their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2014, and the team hopes back-to-back NIT appearances have given them valuable postseason experience that they can use to their advantage moving forward. The goal is to return Penn State to its Big Ten powerhouse status of the early 2010's.
"Certainly the goal is to be in the NCAA Tournament, and you take the whole season to try to get there. We definitely want to be back there to represent ourselves and represent Penn State," Washington said.
It's an old cliché that championships are won in the offseason, and the Lady Lions will have a prime opportunity to get their season off to a right foot over the summer.
Every four years, the NCAA allows teams to take an international trip, and its the Lady Lions' year now to cash in on that opportunity. They will head to Spain this summer to travel as well as play in some exhibition games. It's the first time since 2012 that Penn State has gone abroad, as they traveled to Italy and France that summer.
Some may remember Penn State men's basketball taking a trip to the Bahamas in the summer of 2017, and Washington sees a lot of potential parallels between the men's team's experience and that of the Lady Lions.
"Last year, the men's basketball team played a lot of freshmen and sophomores, then went on a foreign tour and got the extra practice time," Washington said. "They got started a little early on the season and I think you saw that experience pay off for them this year. I'm confident and optimistic that we'll have the same type of payoff."
Not only does the trip allow the team to play the extra games, but it also serves as a chance to further bond over a new experience for some.
"Everyone's really excited about it," junior guard Teniya Page said. "For some people, it's their first time going out of the country, and being able to spend additional time with one another in a foreign country and experience that together will help in a lot of different ways."
"I think it's a great experience. Some of the best ways to learn about other people are through food and through music in their culture. That's an easy way to dive into someone else's lifestyle," Carter said.
In addition, the summer trip allows for more practice time in the offseason. Usually, teams are allowed only two hours of practice every week over the summer. But with the foreign trip thrown in, that allows for a full 10 days of practice before they head across the Atlantic.
The trip is scheduled for some time in August, although specific dates are yet to be announced.