Although picked to be the top team in the Mid-American Conference East Division once again this winter, the four-time defending East champion Golden Flashes don't have a single All-MAC player returning for the first time since 1990.
So why the high ranking?
An easy question to answer. Teams coached by Bob Lindsay, in his 13th season at Kent State, have challenged for a league title in 10 of his last 12 seasons and have made three NCAA Tournament appearances.
The Flashes own a 43-game home winning streak, the longest in Kent State history and the longest active streak in the nation. Last season the Flashes went undefeated at the M.A.C. Center (12-0) for the third straight year.
"I really don't know how this team is going to react until we start playing games," said Lindsay. "We started the season with three kids who haven't played a game in 19 months and no All-MAC player. We have a freshman in Tiffanie Hager who missed two years of high school basketball because of an injury. We have a junior college transfer (Caroline LeVasseur) who has never played a (Division I) college game. We have a bunch of freshmen who are best described as typical freshmen.
"We have made some progress. Some days are better than others. It is the nature of the beast. At best, we are making progress, and at worst, I haven't got a real handle right now."
Lindsay has two returning starters, both sophomores. Wing player Christi Shibata (5-foot-10) averaged 9.2 points a game as a freshman last year. She had knee surgery over the summer and injured her wrist in the first practice this fall. Shibata is playing, but not at full capacity.
"I haven't seen enough of her this season to make an opinion," said Lindsay.
The other returning starter is 5-6 point guard Lori Krezeczowski. After averaging 6.3 points a game last year, she is picking up where she left off.
"I need to see Lori under game conditions to see if she has gotten better over the summer," said Lindsay. "The bottom line will be her production during the season."
For Kent State to be successful Lindsay needs solid play from his center, 6-6 Andrea Csaszar, a sophomore from Hungary. Csaszar is an athletic player who can score inside and outside. She has good balance on defense and runs the floor well.
"Csaszar has more of a game than Julie Studer had," said Lindsay, referring to KSU's All-MAC center and leading scorer last season. "She is a better passer and has more of a variety of shots. She has finesse. She has raised her game over the summer."
Competing for time at strong forward are senior Jamie Rubis (6-0), junior Katalin Kollat (6-2) and freshman Ashley Clark (6-1).
Kollat missed most of last season (14 games) due to injury but played well in the postseason. She can rebound well and has a good shooting touch.
Senior Jamie Rubis (6-0), a two-year starter, missed last season due to an illness. While still trying to regain her strength, Rubis will see action sparingly at the start of the season. She is a solid player who understands the game. Lindsay hopes she can provide the leadership the team needs.
"Kollat is rounding into shape, as is Rubis," said Lindsay. "Clark is a talented player who is trying to find her niche. She is where most freshmen are, some good days and clueless on defense. All will see action early in the season until we sort things out."
At the scoring guard, Lindsay has transfers Valerie Zona and Kate Miller. Zona (5-9) is a junior transfer from West Virginia, where she averaged 10 points a game in 1999-2000. Miller (5-8) has one year left after playing three years at American University, where she averaged 16.8 points a game as a junior. Both players can score in a variety of ways.
"Both players will make us a better 3-point shooting team," said Lindsay. "They are experienced college players who played in good conferences. They need to learn to play hard all the time."
Backing up Krezeczowski is 5-8 junior Morgan O'Hara. Voted the most improved player last season, O'Hara needs to up her point production.
Behind Csaszar is Hager (6-5), who sat out most of her senior year in high school with a broken bone.
"Hager is good; lost sometimes, but good," said Lindsay. "She was the only other player besides Csaszar who scored more than 10 points in our two exhibition games. Her game knowledge is behind the other players. She has a lot of potential."
LeVasseur will see some action at guard, while sophomore Erin Hostetler and freshman Angela Lott are also in the mix.
Lindsay lost his most athletic player, 5-10 freshman Cherise George, for the season. George suffered a major knee injury during the first week of practice and will have surgery soon. She would have seen a lot of action this season.
Kent State opens the season tonight at Maine.
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