Goodman Shaffer: Lady Lions live up to expectations

Coquese Washington has been very clear about her goals since arriving in Happy Valley in 2007.

She came to Penn State to lead the Lady Lions to their first national championship.

Reviving a struggling but proud program was part sprint, but it has also been part marathon. And right now, the team must be feeling a runner’s high.

Ranked No. 7 in the country in this week’s Associated Press women’s basketball poll, Penn State is undefeated in the Big Ten, 17-2 overall, and in the driver’s seat for a conference crown.

Still, these are just checkpoints on the way to the ultimate goal, the NCAA title.

Lady Lion fans are known to reminisce fondly about the team’s first Final Four appearance in 2000. But the Glory Days in Happy Valley are not just a thing of the past. They seem to be here again, as this team so focused on the future seems to be telling fans that the future is now.

The program that remembers its legends by first names alone – Suzie, Susan, Tina, Kelly – has some current stars -Maggie, Alex, Mia, Nikki – who are well worth watching.

Maggie Smith hit the 1,000 point mark as a sophomore; the junior shooting guard and leading scorer has Mazzante-esque moments. Senior point guard Alex Bentley continues to climb the PSU all-time charts in assists and steals and knows this year is her last chance to fulfill that NCAA goal. Nikki Greene has become a commanding force under the basket, while fellow senior Mia Nickson brings a poise to the court that makes her a natural leader. With a strong supporting cast, including Dara Taylor, these Lady Lions are all building the Coquese Washington legacy while building on last season’s Sweet Sixteen experience.

But heading down the home stretch, this Penn State squad deserves a little love. Their average attendance at home this year is just 4,600, hardly fitting of a top 10 basketball team.

The 8-12 Penn State men are averaging 7,600 per game.

Next Monday, archrival Purdue comes to the Bryce Jordan Center, currently in second place in the Big Ten, for the game that could decide the regular season conference championship. Long-time fans remember the thrilling Penn State-Purdue games of years gone by, while the next generation should look forward to this late-season showdown.

The final home game of the season, Feb. 24 will feature a senior celebration in addition to the emotional Pink Zone fundraiser for breast cancer causes, just in case fans need some extra reasons to show up.

March Madness brings the Big Ten and NCAA tournaments, where anything can happen. Let’s not wait until they’re on the post-season wing to get behind this accomplished team.

The Lady Lions are living up to the most important of expectations – their own. Now it’s time for the rest of Nittany Nation to get on board.

Kellie Goodman Shaffer can be reached at Her column appears on Tuesdays.