After a trip to the Sweet 16 and their record-tying fifth consecutive Big Ten championship, the Ohio State women’s basketball team is preparing for another season.
The Buckeyes have had success in the past, but are setting their sights on an even bigger goal in 2009. After losing to a dominant Stanford team in the Sweet 16, it was apparent the Buckeyes needed another off-season to fully develop a young roster.
This season should be different, however, as the Buckeyes return four starters to a team that went 29-6, tying for third in the NCAA for most wins.
Led by the duo of junior Jantel Lavender and sophomore Samantha Prahalis, the Buckeyes should be more experienced and better able to handle the pressures of Big Ten and NCAA tournament action.
Fellow starters senior Shavelle Little and junior Brittany Johnson, along a deep bench and highly touted recruiting class should provide Ohio State with the necessary ingredients for another successful run this season.
Lavender, Prahalis receive preseason attention
After a stellar 2009 season, expectations are running high for not only the dynamic duo of Lavender and Prahalis, but the Buckeyes as a whole.
Some preseason publications have ranked Ohio State as high as #3 for the upcoming season behind UConn and Stanford. For the Buckeyes, it’s a sign of past efforts coming to fruition and that the time is now for the Scarlet and Gray.
The season begins against Eastern Illinois on Nov. 13, but a bigger test lurks later on the schedule. The annual ACC/Big Ten challenge has matched the Buckeyes against the top-10 ranked Duke Blue Devils, with the winner asserting themselves as one of the nation’s top teams.
Regardless of preseason hype, the Buckeyes know what they have to do.
“This year people expect us to be one of the best teams in the country,” Prahalis said. “We just have to put that aside and go day by day, getting better as a whole. That’s the big thing, staying focused and getting better.”
For Prahalis, that means capitalizing on one of the best freshman seasons in Ohio State history. She didn’t waste any time adjusting her game to the next level last season, starting all 35 games for the Buckeyes at point guard.
Her stats spoke for themselves as she led Big Ten freshmen in scoring (10.2 ppg), assists (5.8) and steals (1.9) while earning herself freshman of the year in the conference. Her 203 assists also set an Ohio State freshman record.
After setting the bar so high for herself after one year, Prahalis is trying to take her game to an even higher level.
“I really want to get my jump shot better, along with my footwork,” Prahalis said. “But specifically, [my goal is] getting my jump shot to where I can depend on it game by game.”
Prahalis’ efforts so far in her career are beginning to pay off. Recently, she was the only sophomore to be named to the Preseason Wooden Award watch list, given to the country’s best player.
She finds the attention flattering, but knows she can’t get ahead of herself.
“I really appreciate it and it’s humbling to me,” Prahalis said. “I have to make other people better. As a point guard I have to put myself in the back seat and try to put people in situations to do big things.”
For Lavender, another season should mean more of the same. The two-time Big Ten player of the year is trying to become only the second three-time recipient of the prestigious honor.
She led the Big Ten in points (20.0), rebounds (9.9) and shooting percentage (.549) and earned herself State Farm/WBCA Coaches and USBWA All-America honors last season.
Accomplishing so much in her first two seasons hasn’t kept Lavender from wanting to improve and make herself better.
“You can constantly work on weaknesses and things that you don’t do well. For me being a post player, it would be things that guards do like ball handing, dribbling [and] passing,” Lavender said. “There are things past me being a post player that I can work on like my three-point shot, and pushing the ball up the floor after a rebound. I just want to improve anything in my game that will make me an all-around player.”
Lavender said she is aware of the expectations placed on this team, but she believes their expectations are just as high. Lavender said the team will have to stay together to successfully handle the pressure.
“We can live up to being a really good team if we come out and work hard,” she said. “We have a chance to be a really good team as long as we stay tight and close knit. Last year I feel like we had a closer unit and the chemistry is what makes a team go far.”