UNIVERSITY PARK - When Coquese Washington recruited Zhaque Gray five years ago, the coach described clear goals of where Penn State's program was headed.
"She said we will be competing in the Sweet 16, we will be Big Ten champions and we will be doing big things," the senior guard recalled. "And I never doubted her."
Turns out, Gray had no reason to.
Washington wrapped up her fifth season at Penn State with the Lions' first Big Ten regular-season title and first Sweet Sixteen appearance since 2004. Penn State (26-7) lost to No. 1 seed Connecticut, but returns 10 players - including four starters - next season.
But don't ask Washington if Penn State is merely back to national prominence. She has bigger expectations than that.
"I'd rather be where we are now than where we were five years ago, but I'm still not satisfied," Washington said. "I think we can be better than a Sweet 16 team."
Penn State was once a perennial contender under longtime coach Rene Portland. But the Lions slipped off the map in recent years, including a 13-18 finish in 2007-2008, Washington's first season. But Washington kept recruiting, making lofty promises to bring in some of the country's top talent. And the Lions have increased their Big Ten win total in each of her seasons.
The Lions (74.8 points per game) led all Big Ten teams in scoring this season. And Washington was named the conference's coach of the year
"I've enjoyed it every step of the way," Washington said. "Even the  losses in the first season."
Along with the four returning starters, Penn State will welcome McDonald's All-American Candice Agee to the mix next season. Agee, a 6-foot center, will enroll in the summer session. Guard Dara Taylor, another McDonald's All-American, will also be eligible next season. The transfer from Maryland sat out this season due to NCAA rules.
"I think we're starting to get respect on the national level," sophomore guard Maggie Lucas said. "But we still have a ton to improve on. Even though we're going to have a great roster next year, there's a lot we need to work on."
Washington wants to see her team get more aggressive on defense. Rebounding will be a big point of focus. The Lions were outrebounded by 14 vs. LSU in the second round of the NCAA tournament, but still managed to win.
"When you face the elite teams and you're inconsistent rebounding, it's tough to win," Washington said. "Especially when you go deeper into the NCAA tournament."
The Lions will get practice against those elite teams early next year. Aside from a tough Big Ten schedule, Penn State has amped up its non-conference slate, including a trip to Storrs, Conn. to face the Huskies.
Washington said she's excited about the future of her program, but again hesitated to classify the Lions as Elite.
"You've got to put some years together first," Washington said. "We've put two years together. We need to put another one together and then we can start to say 'we're back.'"