STATE COLLEGE — Carolyn Kieger became Penn State’s fifth women’s basketball coach when she was introduced in April. Kieger arrived in Happy Valley after a successful five-year run at Marquette, where she guided the Lady Eagles to a 99-64 record.
Kieger, a Marquette alumna, led the Golden Eagles to three NCAA Tournament appearances and posted a 15-3 Big East record in her final year at her alma mater. Marquette won back-to-back Big East regular-season titles in Kieger’s final two years there.
Kieger expects to duplicate that success at her new destination, and she’s already encouraged by the progression of the program since her arrival. Penn State nabbed a 20-point win on Nov. 1 in exhibition play against Kutztown. The Nittany Lions forced 16 turnovers in the contest.
“I’m extremely proud of where we’ve come in the last seven months,” Geiger said. “We’ve spent an enormous amount of time on culture, defining what our mission looks like, what our vision is and our core principles.”
Penn State opens its regular season at Towson tonight.
Kieger inherits a Nittany Lions team that went 12-18 overall and 5-13 in Big Ten play last season. Wisconsin defeated Penn State in the first round of the Big Ten tournament.
Under former coach Coquese Washington, Penn State reached the NCAA Tournament’s Sweet 16 in the 2011-12 and 2013-14 seasons and won three Big Ten titles. The Nittany Lions, however, stalled over the last five years, as they finished no better than seventh in the Big Ten during that span. Washington led Penn State women’s basketball program for 12 seasons and accumulated a 209-169 record. She’s currently an associate head coach at the University of Oklahoma.
A trio of standouts from last season will help Kieger usher in her inaugural season at Penn State. The Nittany Lions return three of their top five scorers in senior guard Siyeh Frazier (9.9 ppg), junior guard Kamaria McDaniel (9.7 ppg) and junior forward Alisia Smith (9.6 ppg).
“I think she’s had one of the best offseasons that I’ve been around,” Kieger said of Frazier. “She stayed (for) both summer sessions. Her body is in great shape. She’s playing our pace. She’s leading. She’s having fun playing.”
The Nittany Lions will have to replace the Big Ten’s second-leading scorer in Teniya Page (19.2 ppg), but Frazier, McDaniel or Smith should have plenty of chances to do just that. McDaniel posted a double-double behind 25 points and 10 rebounds in Penn State’s exhibition win against Kutztown.
A good part of Kieger’s optimism this year comes from the fact she believes her players have adopted her change in culture mantra. McDaniel said the standard has been raised under the new coach’s direction, and players are giving her words more than just lip service.
“She won’t let us settle to be mediocre, and that’s been the main thing, like we’re never trying to be average at anything,” McDaniel said. “We’ll keep doing something until you become elite. She uses the word elite a lot, and it’s just instilled a certain level of how we expect to come out and give our best and try to be great at whatever we’re doing.”
Penn State sophomore forward Lauren Ebo is coming off a freshman season that saw her collect a team-leading 169 rebounds and 29 blocks. Ebo averaged 21.5 minutes per contest and posted 11 starts. Kieger expects even better numbers from the 6-foot-4, second-year player.
“Lauren Ebo has drastically changed her mindset when it comes to the game of basketball,” Kieger said. “Her body looks amazing. She’s put in a phenomenal amount of work in the weight room, and she’s a completely different player.”
In addition to the returning firepower of Frazier, McDaniel and Smith, Penn State in the last recruiting cycle added five new players who could become contributors. Mya Bembry (guard), Anna Camden (forward), Shay Hagans (guard), Jayla James (guard) and Makenna Marisa (guard) rounded out the Nittany Lions’ latest recruiting class.
Marisa recorded 1,730 points during her prep career at Peter’s Township High and she guided her alma mater to a 30-0 record and a state championship as a senior.
“I think she’s someone who can play multiple positions for us,” Kieger said. “(She’s) going to be a phenomenal addition to our program, and I think she’ll be, as she develops, one of the best guards, not only in the Big Ten but in the country.”
Bembry accumulated 1,718 points and 1,068 rebounds at West Orange (N.J.) High and concluded her prep career as West Orange’s all-time leading scorer.
Additionally, the Nittany Lions landed former West Virginia guard Nia Staples as a graduate transfer. Staples brings 33 games worth of collegiate experience to her new squad.
“The upperclassmen have done a phenomenal job leading our six newcomers,” Kieger said.
While coaching in the Big Ten this season will be new for Kieger, she possesses a strong knowledge of the conference both as an observer and as a coach. She grew up in Minnesota, and Kieger-led Marquette teams played six Big Ten opponents. The Golden Eagles enjoyed two wins against Wisconsin and one against Michigan during her tenure.
One of the draws to Happy Valley, she said, is Penn State’s widespread fan support, which she hopes to encourage with wins on the hardwood.
“I think everybody is just fired up and excited for this season to begin,” she said. “And that’s a big goal of mine, to get butts in the seats and fill the Bryce Jordan Center. I think we started out hitting the ground running, and I’ve been very pleased with the response that we’ve gotten from fans.”
No. Name Pos. Yr. Ht.
1 Alisia Smith F Jr. 6-3
2 Jayla James G Fr. 6-1
3 Nia Staples G R-Sr. 5-8
4 Siyeh Frazier G Sr. 5-9
5 Kamaria McDaniel G Jr. 5-10
10 Mya Bembry G Fr. 6-1
11 Anna Camden F Fr. 6-3
12 Kayleigh Semion G R-Sr. 5-6
20 Makenna Marisa G Fr. 5-11
23 Shay Hagans G Fr. 5-6
31 Jaida Travascio-Green G Sr. 6-2
33 Lauren Ebo F So. 6-4
43 Bexley Wallace F So. 6-3
at Towson Nov. 5
Rider Nov. 10
Fordham Nov. 13
La Salle Nov. 17
Clemson Nov. 21
George Mason Nov. 24
Long Beach State^ Nov. 29
Cal or North Carolina Central^ Nov. 30
Pittsburgh Dec. 5
at Princeton Dec. 14
Sacred Heart Dec. 22
Minnesota* Dec. 28
at Michigan* Dec. 31
at Wisconsin* Jan. 4
Michigan State* Jan. 9
at Ohio State* Jan. 12
Rutgers* Jan. 16
at Northwestern* Jan. 19
Indiana* Jan. 23
at Purdue* Jan. 26
Iowa* Jan. 30
Northwestern* Feb. 2
at Rutgers* Feb. 6
Illinois* Feb. 9
at Nebraska* Feb. 13
Maryland* Feb. 16
at Iowa* Feb. 22
Michigan* Feb. 27
at Michigan State* March 1
^ — Cal Classic
* — Big Ten game