BLOG: Non-Conference Schedule Features Nation's Best
Oct. 17, 2013
By Tyler Feldman, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - After winning back-to-back Big Ten regular season champions, both head coach Coquese Washington and her players understand what is expected of the team during the 2013-14 season. However, the phrase "regular season" doesn't even begin to sum up the opponents that will oppose the Lady Lions this season.
Just at first glance, the Lady Lions appear to have one of the most thrilling non-conference schedules in the entire country. Before Penn State even begins Big Ten regular season play, the Lady Lions will face Connecticut (Nov. 17), Notre Dame (Dec. 4) and Texas A&M (Dec. 15) on their home floor in the Bryce Jordan Center.
So the Lady Lions will be facing the defending national champion in Connecticut, a team that made it to the Final Four in Notre Dame, and a team that finished in the top 15 in Texas A&M. It is clear that Washington wants her players to be tested in preparation for the Big Ten regular season and beyond.
"We want to be a program that plays the best teams in the country, not just the best teams in our area or our region. We want to play the best teams in the country," said Washington. "We want to play UConn, we want to play teams like Tennessee or Stanford and we're excited about playing Notre Dame. We want to be one of those programs that play against the marquee talent."
Now, even though the Lady Lions will not be playing teams like Tennessee or Stanford this season, Washington's goal is to use the games against UConn, Notre Dame and Texas A&M as preparatory games, just in case the team butts heads with the Volunteers or Cardinal in the NCAA tournament.
"You can't be the best without playing the best," said senior guard Dara Taylor. "When you make it to the NCAA Tournament, these are the kind of caliber teams that you're going to see.
"To be one of the top teams in the country you have to face the UConn's and the Texas A&M's, so having them on our schedule is a blessing. It gives us a chance to see them early in the season so that when we go to make our run in March we've already seen them and it will be our second go-round with them."
The Lady Lions are no stranger to success under the direction of Washington, but they will have to replace five players - three starters - heading into the 2013-14 season.
"We are a great team and to be great you have to beat great teams," said senior forward Talia East. "[Playing top programs] is going to let us get our feet wet and let us know what it's going to be like to play teams that are high NCAA tournament caliber."
Unlike in previous years when Penn State would have to travel to play such high caliber teams, the aurora surrounding the team this year is a little different with knowledge that top-ranked teams will be coming to Happy Valley to play on their hardwood.
"It's a great opportunity to get them on our home floor, in front of our home crowd," said Taylor. "In past years we've had to travel to those places and had to play in their environment. It's nice, especially as a senior, to get a crack at them on your home court."
Such a thought may not be on Washington's mind now, but playing three stellar opponents in a non-conference setting can spark wonders to her already dazzling recruiting.
"I think it's exciting because not many people can say that they played Connecticut, Notre Dame and Texas A&M their freshman year," said freshman guard/forward Peyton Witted.
Although the main focus in regards to the non-conference schedule will be on the three powerhouse programs, the Lady Lions still have two handfuls of non-conference matchups to pay attention to, as well.
In addition to Connecticut, Notre Dame and Texas A&M, the Lady Lions will round out non-conference play with games against Saint Francis, Fordham, Bucknell, Oregon State, Florida or Illinois State, Georgetown, South Dakota State, Alcorn State, and Hartford.