The Kent State women’s basketball team has emerged from its COVID-19-induced pause and will return to action on Wednesday, hosting Toledo in its 2021-22 Mid-American Conference opener at the M.A.C. Center. Tip-off following the scheduled men’s game will take place at approximately 7 p.m.
The Golden Flashes haven’t played since Dec. 11, when they routed Clarion to earn their fourth consecutive victory. They were scheduled to host Florida State on Dec. 21, but were forced to cancel after several players tested positive for COVID-19.
“We’re back,” said KSU coach Todd Starkey, when contacted Monday morning. “We had a light practice Sunday night. We’ve got a few [players] that are in return to play protocol who should be cleared today. Then hopefully we’ll have a full practice [Monday] afternoon and [Tuesday], getting ready for Toledo on Wednesday.”
The Flashes finished the non-conference season 8-1, their best start since 2008-09, and hope to carry that momentum into MAC play. However, the 18-day stretch between their final non-league contest and Wednesday’s conference opener is cause for concern according to Starkey.
"Since we last played half of our team had COVID,” he said. “It’s kind of strange because we haven't played in so long. Three weeks off is not ideal in the middle of the season obviously. Toledo has played a couple of games in the last 10 days. I think there’s some real timing and in-game rust that you’re going to have to potentially deal with. We won't know really to what extent that is until we actually start playing.”
The Flashes were forced to endure pauses at inopportune times triggered by COVID-19 last season as well.
"Last year it was right in the middle of conference play. We had gotten off to a 4-0 [MAC] start, then we didn’t play a game for 25 days,” said Starkey. “We missed games, then we had to do quick makeups against other teams that weren’t coming off of COVID. So as far as how it’s starting [this year] it’s different, other than the fact that we’ve been off from playing actual games for three weeks or so.
"But our players have gone through this type of adversity before. I think this is a resilient bunch.”
While Kent State emerged from the 2021-22 non-conference season with the MAC’s top record, the Rockets also enjoyed a solid non-league campaign — winning six of nine games. They’re led by one of the MAC’s top scorers in junior guard Quinesha Lockett, who is averaging 18.6 points per game this season.
“They’re a good, well-balanced team,” said Starkey. “They brought in a freshman and two transfers in the frontcourt. Lockett has turned into one of the most dynamic players and scorers in the league. They’ve got a veteran point guard in [junior Sophia] Wiard. It’s a very formidable opponent to start conference play off with.”
Balance has also been a strength for the Flashes, who have six players averaging 6.9 points or more.
Sophomore guard Casey Santoro has emerged in her second season at KSU, averaging a team-high 14.2 points and 4.1 assists off the bench. Junior guard Katie Shumate averages 13.9 points per contest, while senior forward Lindsay Thall (13.7 points, 7.1 rebounds), junior forward Nila Blackford (10.1 points, 7.8 rebounds) and senior guard Hannah Young (8.2 points, 7 rebounds) each average seven rebounds or more.
Kent State defeated No. 19 UCLA and Penn State in a Florida tournament, and also notched solid wins over Northern Kentucky (8-3), St. Bonaventure (8-3) and Duquesne during non-conference play.
“We did a really nice job in the non-conference season. We had some marquee wins, but we also learned about ourselves a lot,” said Starkey. “I think we gained some confidence. But this is a whole new season now for us. Hopefully our non-conference schedule has done exactly what we wanted it to do, prepare us for the conference play.”
What: Women’s Basketball, MAC opener
Who: Toledo (6-3) vs, Kent State (8-1)
When/Where: Wednesday, 7 p.m./M.A.C. Center
TV/Radio: ESPN3/Kent State Radio Network
2020-21 records: Toledo 12-12, Kent State 11-9
Rockets leaders: Quinesha Lockett, 5-10, Jr., G (18.6 points, 4.9 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 2 steals). Sophia Wiard, 5-7, Jr., G (10.8 points, 6.7 rebounds, 4.1 assists). Jessica Cook, 6-2, Fr., F (8.7 points, 5.2 rebounds).
Flashes leaders: Lindsey Thall, 6-2, Sr., F (13.7 points, 7.1 rebounds), Katie Shumate, 5-11, Jr., G (13.9 points, 3 rebounds), Casey Santoro, 5-4, So., G (14.2 points, 4.1 assists, 4.3 rebounds), Nila Blackford, 6-2, Jr., F (10.1 points, 7.8 rebounds), Hannah Young, 5-10, Sr., G (8.2 points, 7 rebounds).
This article originally appeared on Record-Courier: Kent State will open MAC play by hosting Toledo on Wednesday