Ohio State women’s basketball stumbled once so far in its non-conference schedule — a lone defeat at the hands of the USC Trojans to start the 23-24 season. Since then, the Buckeyes are 7-0, including an impressive win against the Tennessee Volunteers. Now, the scarlet and gray take a small break from the non-conference slate, facing its first Big Ten opponent in the Penn State Nittany Lions.
It’s been a long time since Penn State’s competed near the top of the conference, and almost 10 years since the Nittany Lions found their way into the AP Top 25. Now, with Penn State back in a more competitive form, it comes to Columbus off a surprise defeat to the unranked West Virginia Mountaineers.
To learn more about the interesting state of the Nittany Lions in 2023, Land-Grant Holy Land reached out to Joe Lister from Onward State. Lister talks about the surging Lions, the difficult defeat to the Mountaineers and will guard Ashley Owusu ever play in a game for the Nittany Lions this season?
Land-Grant Holy Land: This season, the Nittany Lions return much of the same roster from last year, but the team is playing at a different level. What’s the difference you’ve seen in Penn State to start this season? (Minus the game against West Virginia, which we’ll chat about in a minute...)
Onward State: I think the biggest difference with Penn State this year is its depth. Last year, guard Makenna Marisa, forward Leilani Kapinus, and guard Shay Ciezki all had to play amazing for the team to win a game. This year, those three are still critical assets, but they have the help necessary to not have to carry the team anymore.
I said before the year started that Penn State’s flaw was that it only had four starting players: Ciezki, Kapinus, Marisa, and guard Ashley Owusu. Owusu hasn’t even stepped on the court, but the slack is getting picked up by forward Ali Brigham, guard Moriah Murray, guard Tay Valladay, and others.
LGHL: Even though much of the starting roster is the same, the Nittany Lions were active in the transfer portal this offseason. Who are some of the new names who are making an impact? Second part of that question, are there any signs that former All-American Ashley Owusu is going to play Sunday, or anytime soon?
OS: As I mentioned, Murray was a big pickup from Drexel, along with fellow-former Dragon, forward Kylie Lavelle. The same goes for Valladay, who came from Virginia. Guard Jayla Oden and forward Grace Hall have also been nice additions. I just named every transfer because the group has been that solid.
As for Owusu, I wouldn’t be shocked if she never steps onto a court as a Nittany Lion. There’s no timeline on her recovery from whatever injury or issue she has. Head coach Carolyn Kieger has been saying that Owusu will be back soon the whole year, but nothing’s changed. Owusu warms up at full speed before every game, and then changes into sweatpants and sits on the bench all game. She might be ready to play Ohio State, she might be on the bench all season. Who knows?
LGHL: After the big start to the season, Penn State ran into a snare against the West Virginia Mountaineers on Monday. WVU played a pressing defensive style, much like the Buckeyes will on Sunday. Do you think that was the reason for the loss or were the Nittany Lions maybe looking ahead to the Big Ten matchup in Columbus?
OS: I think Penn State took the West Virginia game seriously enough. I asked Kieger after her latest win about which team could be a “prove it” win for Penn State, and she surprised me by highlighting West Virginia. I don’t think Ohio State came up.
Frankly, I think Penn State was just the worse team on the court that night. The deficit was surprising, but I wasn’t entirely putting money on the No. 25 team to crush a team that was receiving votes in the AP poll. Sometimes that’s just how the cookie crumbles.