The Associated Press has the Ohio State women’s basketball team ranked No. 3 coming into the season.
While coach Jim Foster played down the hype, saying preseason polls mean nothing, it’s clear that expectations are high for the Buckeyes this year.
“If you’ve got the right people in the gym, they expect a lot of themselves,” Foster said.
This year’s squad does just that, coming off an excellent season last year, in which the Buckeyes won their fifth consecutive Big Ten regular-season championship. The Buckeyes also won the conference tournament and advanced to the Sweet 16 in the NCAA tournament.
This year, four starters return, including the highly talented duo of Jantel Lavender and Samantha Prahalis. Lavender is the two-time reigning Big Ten Player of the Year, and Prahalis was named Big Ten Freshman of the Year last season. Both players were voted onto the preseason All-Big Ten team, and Lavender was selected as preseason Big Ten Player of the Year.
The Buckeyes also return junior Brittany Johnson and senior Shavelle Little, who is a two-time Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year.
Heading into the season, there is competition for playing time, and especially for the fifth spot in the starting lineup.
“I think everyone brings something special to the table, but it’s going to be tough and real competitive,” Prahalis said.
She added that junior Sarah Schulze could be one of the players to step in for the Buckeyes.
“I think she’s really strong,” Prahalis said. “She stepped up big in the Stanford game last year.”
Schulze scored a career-high 12 points against Stanford in the NCAA tournament.
The Buckeyes welcome four freshmen to this year’s squad, including Tayler Hill.
Hill is the younger sister of senior P.J. Hill, who plays point guard on the men’s basketball team.
Hill finished her high school career as Minnesota’s all-time leading scorer with 3,894 points. Her senior season, she averaged more than 31 points per game and was named a 2009 McDonald’s All-American.
Foster acknowledged that Hill is a very talented player but said he needs to see how Hill will adjust and respond to coaching at the college level.
“In two weeks, I’ll have a much better answer to that question,” Foster said about how much Hill will be able to contribute this season.
Foster said that there’s still room for everyone to improve, but is excited the team members are working hard and not letting the preseason ranking go to their heads.
Lavender and Prahalis are two of the players who have continued to work hard this offseason. Foster said Lavender “continued to work on her face-up game … and we continued to improve her left [hand]. Being able to score with both shoulders is a big deal.”
As for Prahalis, she worked on improving her footwork, which she struggled with as a freshman. Foster is also pushing her into more of a leadership role this season.
“He’s definitely trying to make me be more vocal,” Prahalis said.
Prahalis and the rest of the Buckeyes will look to continue improving as they close in on their first game. The Buckeyes tip off their season against Eastern Illinois at home Nov. 13.