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Feb. 22, 2012
By Laura Finley, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Confetti and blue and white streamers rained down on exuberant fans, as the Penn State Lady Lions threw back their heads, screaming in triumph.
After cruising past Ohio State, 84-66, the Lady Lions received a standing ovation from over 5,000 fans as echoes of the Penn State Alma Mater filled the Bryce Jordan Center. This was the emotional scene that played out for the team on Monday as the Lady Lions won their first Big Ten regular season title since 2004.
"We stuck together as a team when things got hard," said sophomore guard Maggie Lucas. "Tonight decided it, but there was a bunch of other games that led up to this. We took care of business and we're pretty proud of that."
And it was a game to be proud of for the Lady Lions, who worked together to deny Ohio State the victory. But the team effort did not stop there. With the trophy presentation over and congratulations given all around, the team assumed its position under one of the goals as each player and coach cut a single piece of the net - a small memento of a hard-fought season.
"There are no words," said junior forward Mia Nickson. "It's amazing. We worked so hard to get here. My team is amazing. I'm so glad I was able to come here to get this opportunity."
Each player displayed this same sense of awe and thanks, acknowledging the good and the bad of the season, and their own hope for the future. Hope in themselves, their team and their university.
"We try our best night in and night out to represent Penn State's slogan, Success with Honor," said head coach Coquese Washington. "At this moment, I cannot be prouder to represent Penn State University."
The feeling was mutual for players and fans alike, as the Lady Lions have battled all season to help bring success with honor back to Penn State.
After starting the Big Ten season 1-2, the team fought hard to get back on track, working on the team dynamic and defensive skills. Everything finally culminated on Sunday, as the team played together, with a combined effort to shut down Ohio State.
"This is a two and a half month journey and there's so many things, so many variables that impact that," said Coach Washington. "Whether or not you have the fortitude and mental toughness, not to mention the talent, and the health, there's so many thing that go into it. For this team to do that this year given everything we've gone through this year, it really means a lot."
After making it to the second round of the NCAA tournament last year, the Lady Lions set the stage to accomplish something more this season. The team soon found out, however, that not everything goes as planned. After playing in only three conference games, the team dropped two games at home.
"I remember sitting at that table then and [the press] was asking, `You're 1-2, how are you going to win? Are you feeling pressure?' and I was like, `No, we'll be fine'," said Coach Washington. "We just needed to fix some things. We were looking at how that was game three and we played a bad half, so let's fix some things and go on to game four and then game five and so on and so forth to get to this moment."
This mentality brought it all back for the Lady Lions who focused on defending and rebounding. While Maggie Lucas and Alex Bentley seemed to steal the spotlight, racking up points and assists, other players hung back, patiently waiting for their time to shine.
And it arrived Monday night.
While Lucas and Bentley handled the ball, setting the pace of the game, it was the posts who made the plays. Nickson, junior Nikki Greene and sophomore Talia East took control, feeding off the energy of the crowd, and showing everything they had worked hard to perfect this season.
"A big emphasis has been rebounding this year," said Nickson. "We lost Julia [Trogele] who was a big guard for us. Everybody has stepped up and with that we didn't lose any momentum."
This momentum will be crucial for the Lady Lions as they close the regular season this Sunday, hoping to log another win and head into the Big Ten tournament on a seven-game winning streak.
For now though, the players reflect on their achievements this season and continue growing together as a team who stands as a testament to what Penn State is all about, success with honor.
"It means a lot to me for Penn State to have this experience, especially after this year and all that our university community has gone through," said Coach Washington. "For us to give something to be proud of and to remember that there's a lot of good here at Penn State; there's a lot of things right. All year long we've tried to be shining examples of what success with honor means. I'm glad that our community is able to share in this moment with us."