Indiana Daily Student

Despite losing players, Penn State is upbeat

Penn State women's basketball coach Rene Portland already had a headache when trying to replace Helen Darling and Andrea Garner, two All-Americans who guided Penn State to the Final Four last season.\nGone were 25 points, 14 rebounds and eight assists per game. More importantly, gone was the leadership and experience Darling and Garner brought to the floor.\n"I'm sorry, Helen Darling is hard to replace," Minnesota coach Cheryl Littlejohn said. "I'm happy. I told her after the last game we played at Penn State, I said 'Girl, I'm so glad to see you leave.'\n"She's been a nightmare for us."\nNow Portland has nightmares.\nAnd it got worse when senior Chrissy Falcone ended her career a week into practice, tearing her anterior cruciate ligament. Falcone was expected to ease the effects of the loss of two dominant starters.\nAdd to that freshman Jennifer Brenden's torn ACL, which will have her out for the year, and Penn State is reeling.\nWith three keys missing from last year's Big Ten regular-season champions, Penn State counts on seniors Maren Walseth and Lisa Sheperd and four freshmen to drive the Lady Lions to another Big Ten crown.\n"Everybody is talking about new coaches," Portland said jokingly. "I have a new team. They're still going to have to watch film and do their homework on us."\nSophomore Ashley Luke replaces Darling, who started all but two games in her four-year career. Luke, at 5-foot-6, will run the point. She didn't start a game last season and averaged 2.5 points in about 10 minutes of playing time.\nPortland doesn't expect Luke to fill Darling's right away but is confident she can make an immediate contribution.\n"We've worked really hard to get Ashley ready for this season," Portland said. "I think she's ready to go. The non conference schedule is terrific, and we're going to do baptism-by-fire with this group."\nThe pre-conference schedule for the Lady Lions includes Old Dominion, Duke, Texas Tech, LSU, Florida and Vanderbilt.\nWhile losing Darling and Garner, a four-year starting center, was expected, the loss of Falcone was surprising.\nFalcone, a fifth-year senior who had to redshirt her freshman year after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in her left knee, tore the same ligament in her right knee at practice.\nIt was the third time Falcone had torn an ACL and the second time in her right knee. She missed her senior season at Trinity High School in Cleveland after tearing her right ACL.\n"We're all very disappointed," Sheperd said. "I think our focus now is to try to be there for her and support her. I can't even imagine what she's going through. We need to let her know that she's still a part of this team and going to go everywhere she goes."\nFalcone will stay with the team this season as a coach, Portland said. Falcone has been key in working with the five freshmen.\nDespite the losses from last year's successful team, an infusion of five freshmen who will play often and the experience of the returning players could lead the Lady Lions to another Final Four.\n"We need to step it up in the post and at the guards," said junior Rashana Barnes, who will replace Garner. "It's going to be a process. You're not going to see it in the first couple games, but hopefully by the end of the year everything will be clicking.\n"And come March is the only time it really matters"

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