Some general observations while enjoying the NCAA women's basketball tournament in Happy Valley:
Great players rise to the occasion, and that was the case for Penn State Senior Maggie Lucas in the Lady Lions' opening-round game against Wichita State on Sunday. In the first half, Penn State looked out-of-sync and sluggish as the Shockers grabbed an early double-digit lead. Then Lucas responded; you could see the resolve in her eyes as she hit back-to-back 3-pointers, and then put her hands behind her ears and waved her arms, pleading with the crowd to raise the Bryce Jordan Center noise level. The 4,000 in attendance obliged, jumping to their feet. The Lady Lions rallied to the 62-56 victory.
Lucas has earned multiple listings in the Penn State record books, including the best free-throw percentage in the Big Ten. All that remains to close out her career is a respectable run in the big dance. Hopefully she was merely tapping her toe with the 22-point performance against Wichita State and there is more to come. In addition to trying to punch their ticket to the Sweet 16 tonight against Florida, it will also be the curtain call for the Bryce Jordan Center careers of Lucas and fellow seniors Talia East and Ariel Edwards.
Hosting the tournament is a fitting reward for the class of 2014, who has enjoyed four straight NCAA post-season appearances and back-to-back Big Ten regular season championships; but it is also a nice bonus for the program staff, including director of basketball operations Rachel Rito. The Penn State and Bishop Guilfoyle grad and former Marauder assistant volleyball coach has served in the administrative position for four years, coordinating team travel, clubs and community outreach. Her resume also includes serving as event staff for conference and NCAA championships for gymnastics, volleyball and track & field among other events.
The NCAA tournament games at Penn State included several reunions:
n Wichita State assistant coach Dana Eikenberg was the point guard for the Lady Lions' first No. 1 ranked team in 1991. That historic squad was also bolstered by Eikenberg's college roommate, center Kathy (Phillips) Drysdale, who is now the Lady Lions' marketing manager.
n ESPN reporter Lisa Salters was in the house Sunday, watching her alma mater hold off the Shockers. Salters is one of the few walk-ons to have earned a spot on Rene Portland's roster, and she began her illustrious broadcasting career in the 80's calling Lady Lion basketball games on the radio with Jerry Fisher, who welcomed her back on the air with a halftime interview.
n A member of the University of Florida entourage also started her career at Penn State. A former Nittany Lion softball player, Kathy Cafazzo is the longtime sports information director in charge of women's basketball for the Gators.
n Of course basketball wasn't the only sport on the minds of PSU faithful over the weekend, as they watched the Nittany Lion wrestling and fencing teams both capture NCAA titles. The Lady Lion basketball championship quest continues tonight.
Kellie Goodman Shaffer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Her column appears on Tuesdays.