Freshmen Finding a Family with Lady Lions

November 02, 2018

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – A sense of home can be tough to come by as a college freshman.

For the Penn State Lady Lion freshmen class, the adjustment to college in many ways is just like everyone else. Difficulties finding classrooms, long walks across campus, and finding time to eat meals is something all first year students deal with.

Lucky for them, a strong core of returning upper classmen and coaches has created a foundation of support to assist in the large changes.

"The team and the coaches drew me to Penn State," freshman Lauren Ebo said. "The coaches aren't the type of coaches you can't talk to off the court, so it's easy to get along with them. When you are on the court it's business, but even when you're off the court it's like your family. The players are basically like my sisters. They're basically my best friends so having that family atmosphere makes it special."

Arriving in the summer for training camp and practices was also a calming transition period for the class of three. Ebo, Karisma Ortiz and Bexley Wallace all come to State College from across the country. Ebo is from Washington, D.C., Wallace hails from Pickerington, Ohio and Ortiz made the cross-country trek from San Jose, California to Happy Valley.

"I feel like the adjustment has been a lot easier than I thought it was going to be just because this team is such a family and they are so willing to help you with any problem you may come across," Wallace said.

Despite the distance, all three echoed a similar story when visiting campus as recruits. Head coach Coquese Washington remembers them all getting a taste of the Penn State community visiting State College.

"When they came on their visits, not even from a Lady Lion perspective, they felt the family atmosphere from the entire Penn State community," Washington said. "They came to a White Out Game; they game to a Pink Zone basketball game. They came up multiple times in the summer when nobody is here and every time they would just talk about how it just feels like home here and it feels so comfortable here."

Along with the sense of community, Ortiz was sold almost as soon as she met her future teammates.

"The team (was my biggest takeaway on my visit). Honestly the coaching staff, just knowing that you have three females that have all played pro and are also African American, which isn't something that you normally see," Ortiz said. "On top of that, you have a team that truly enjoys hanging out with each other and that's not something that you really see all the time. You can have a team that has great chemistry on the floor, but off the floor they are terrible - they're fighting, they're arguing, there's drama - and that was something I never saw here. It was always just a family aspect and community so I took that to heart on my visit."

Washington has been pleased with not only how her leaders have been able to help the freshman get acclimated to campus, but also equally as pleased with what she has gotten in return from the freshmen.

"Relationship is a two-way street. So we certainly did what we needed to do in terms of reaching out and embracing them from day one and making it known that we're here for them," Washington said.

"We want to help them succeed and we want to be here for them as much as possible and they have reciprocated that. They've been as much as possible reciprocating 'How can we help you guys? What do you need form us?' So if we say we need that smile, or we need that energy then they go okay and do it. So the has been really great in terms of building a family."

On the court, all three players bring an immense amount of talent to the team with different skill sets as well. Ortiz is an unselfish point guard with uncanny court vision. Wallace and Ebo both fill spots in the front court and will look to make an immediate impact in the post.

Washington compliments all three, saying they have a tremendous basketball IQ to back the talent on the court, and never make egregious mistakes despite the jump from high school to college.

"I think the biggest difference is the pace from high school to college," Ortiz said.  "Everybody is faster and stronger, but I think our freshman class is a tough group. So it's not a matter of toughness or effort, it's more of just getting used to that pace. I think we've adjusted well to it so far and it's just getting better every day."

This is made easier through the help of upper classmen, specifically for Ortiz. As a ball handler, she has one of the top backcourts in the country to shadow, with seniors Amari Carter and Teniya Page running the show. The duo accounts for almost 50-percent of the returning points and 49-percent of returning assists on the team.

"I am always asking them questions and they are always giving me tips," Ortiz said. "I try to always have open ears listening to things they have to tell me. For me, just knowing that they've played the last four years, it's a learning experience and I'm just taking everything they say to heart."

With the season officially opening Nov. 8 against Providence, the freshmen have less than a month to prepare for their first game. They are confident, because of their basketball family that they will be ready.

"It's easier to be a family when everyone lays down their inhibitions and they focus on giving." Washington said. "They focus on serving each other and that's what we have with this group of freshmen."

Last Updated November 02, 2018