The Ohio State women’s basketball program has dominated the Big Ten in recent history.
The Buckeyes have won or earned a share of the regular season conference title for six straight seasons and have won the Big Ten Tournament three of the past six years.
Its success, however, has stopped there.
Only once in those six seasons, in 2008-09, did the Buckeyes make it past the second round of the NCAA Tournament, when they advanced to the Sweet 16 before coming up short against Stanford. Last season, OSU entered the tournament as the No. 2 seed in the Dayton Regional and made an early exit in the tournament after an 87-67 loss at the hands of No. 7 Mississippi State.
OSU coach Jim Foster disputed the notion that his teams have failed to meet postseason expectations but said he was disappointed with last season’s ending.
“I thought two years ago we did have success. That team went to the round of 16, it was very young,” Foster said. “Last year’s team, there was a great feeling of frustration. We weren’t very mature last year.”
This season might be the Buckeyes’ best shot at overcoming their postseason struggles, as the team returns all five starters from last year’s squad, including senior center Jantel Lavender and junior point guard Samantha Prahalis. Both were named to the preseason watch list for the Wooden Award, given to the best male and female players in college basketball.
Lavender, the three-time reigning Big Ten Player of the Year and an Associated Press preseason All-American selection, said the Buckeyes lost focus during last year’s NCAA Tournament.
“I think it takes a mentally tough team to really push forward and come over that hump,” Lavender said. “We had a mishap in where our tournament went last year with some things going on, but I think as a team we have to grow mentally tough and know that things like that may happen and be able to overcome adversity and be able to play through anything.”
Prahalis, who has started every game at point guard for OSU since her debut in 2008, took the blame for last season’s disappointing end.
“I didn’t step up as a leader as I should’ve,” Prahalis said. “As a point guard, you’re supposed to lead this team any way you can and will your team to win, and I didn’t get it done. I didn’t get it done by a lot. It was really a personal thing for me.”
In the Buckeyes’ loss to Mississippi State, Prahalis committed 10 turnovers, was called for a technical foul and eventually fouled out. Prahalis said that during the offseason, one of her goals was to improve her temperament on the court.
“I definitely worked on being mentally tough, being there for my teammates, maturing and just, you know, keeping my cool,” Prahalis said. “Not everything’s going to go my way.”
Lavender said the team’s success would rely on more than individual accomplishments from her and Prahalis.
“We have individuals, yeah that’s great, but I’m more what my team can accomplish and what we can go down in school history as,” Lavender said. “I don’t think we’ve gotten to that point yet. I want to get there.”
Prahalis is aware of the impact that postseason failure would have on her team’s legacy.
“Postseason is everything. We can win the Big Ten a thousand times, but if you don’t have national rings, it doesn’t sit well,” Prahalis said. “Do you want to be remembered as a great team that couldn’t get it done, or do you want to get it done and be a great team?”