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By Brian McLaughlin, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - All season, Penn State Lady Lions' head coach, Coquese Washington has stressed how young her team is, and that constant learning that takes place.
The Lady Lions do not have one senior on their roster, which is composed of five juniors, four sophomores and three freshmen based on their eligibility.
"We've got a lot of weapons, and I think our best games this year have been when we have utilized all those weapons," Washington said. "If we can find a way to be more consistent in that and find a way to get those contributions every night, I think we will be in really good shape going into conference play."
The freshmen in particular have had to step in right away and contribute big minutes especially when Teniya Page missed time early in the season. In particular, in Page's absence freshman guard Kamaria McDaniel has stepped forward playing almost 23 minutes per game and has averaged just under 10 points a game at 9.6.
"Coming in I wasn't going to be able to take that many shots," McDaniel said. "I have to get in the game and I have to knock down shots. Because I know when I get in the game I have to make those shots. Coach has done a great job of putting me in spots to be successful and my teammates do a great job of getting me open."
Other freshman Alisia Smith and Sam Breen have both contributed in all nine of Penn State's games so far. Both have lower numbers than McDaniel, but have never the less gained experience in each game played. Breen is a forward with the ability to stretch the floor from 3-point range, and Smith, another forward has shown physical play on the post early in her career.
Against Wake Forest on November 30, the Lady Lions were faced with a press. After at first being taken aback, the team was able to adjust and conquer the press in the second half. It is that ability to learn on the fly and take coaching that has made the young players so special.
"We don't try to worry about limiting mistakes, its learning from them, so we aren't making the same mistakes again and that's one of the things I liked from the Wake Forest game," Washington said. "We made the adjustments within the game and worked from there."
Since the game against Wake Forest the Lady Lions breezed through a win over Manhattan, and won a hard fought battle against Fordham. Coming off of those wins, Penn State will next take to the road and travel to St. Bonaventure on Saturday. The team knows how important it is to bring energy while on the road, especially off the bench in the form of McDaniel.
"It's just about being competitive, I love to see us winning and that just drives my energy," McDaniel said, "I just try to come in and see what the team needs and bring that and if it's the energy then that's what I will bring."
Washington has added that while the team is young, they are ready to play against anybody. The trust in teammates has gone a long way in their ability to adjust and improve throughout games.
"I think we are growing by leaps and bounds; we seem to take big steps from game to game. We had some big growth in Vegas and I think that's a credit from their willingness to learn lessons from watching and learn from each other and go out there and try something differently," Washington said. "They have to have trust in themselves and trust in each other that they can go out and make adjustments on the fly and I think that's how they are going to grow over the course of the season."
Moving forward, Breen and Smith will work to continue to see their playing time grow throughout the season and contribute on the court, adding to the work McDaniel has already done. Against Fordham, Smith saw seven minutes of action and picked up time late in the game to help seal the victory.
Something that has allowed McDaniel to see large quantities of action is her great self confidence in her game.
"She (Kamaria) has come in with a lot of confidence as a freshman and her confidence didn't get shook by any means with having a game where she was 0-5 against Wake Forest. That didn't shake or rattle her confidence. She got back in the gym and got to work," Washington said. "I think it's really uncanny for a freshman to come in with that kind of confidence in their abilities and it doesn't rattle them from having a different role than she did in high school. I think that is one of her strengths and I think that has allowed her to be successful early this year."
Along with McDaniel's confidence in herself she has no doubts about how good this team can become.
"We are confident in each other and a confident team is a scary team," McDaniel said. "We believe in what we can do. We are going to go out and execute the game plan every night. We are going to worry about ourselves and control what we can control and bring the energy."
The young Lady Lions are learning and growing each day on the court, and when you add confidence to that mix, there is nowhere to go but up.