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The development of Indiana women's basketball's sophomore class

A talented freshman who returns for their sophomore season is only expected to improve.

With a full year of experience under their belt, that in theory, will make them a better player the next season.

Indiana lost two of the program’s best players, but they return a sophomore class exploding with talent. No two players are going to be able to fill the shoes of Tyra Buss and Amanda Cahill, but this sophomore class will certainly contribute to the cause.

Jaelynn Penn

This year’s team won’t have a “star” like Buss, but instead will have numerous talented players. They won’t have one go-to scorer, but instead countless explosive options.

That being said, sophomore guard Jaelynn Penn will be one of the leaders on this year’s team, both with her play and her leadership.

On the court, Penn set a freshman school record with 37 starts. She was named to the Big Ten All-Freshman team, averaged 10.8 points, 4.9 rebounds per game and shot 42 percent from the field. Penn consistently improved throughout the season. In the WNIT, she averaged 14.6 points per game and shot 53 percent from the field.

According to coach Teri Moren, Penn has stood out in practice, calling her a “bucket getter,” and that “you have to have one of those on your team.” While it’s still early, a case can be made that Penn will be their go-to option this season.

“She’s just more confident," Moren said. "She just improved so much, especially on the defensive end. I just think that Jaelynn is playing at a whole ‘nother level right now. She’s confident, she’s been spending extra time in the gym.”

There have been comparisons made between Penn and Buss. Buss’ freshman year stats are similar to Penn’s. She averaged 11.7 points per game and shot 39 percent from the floor.

The comparisons are easy to see when Penn shoots, but Penn is almost playing into the comparisons, spending her offseason working on attacking the rim and finishing, something Buss was good at.

“Personally, I worked on ball handling a lot, a lot of one-on-one moves, you know, getting to the basket when I want to and getting my shot off,” Penn said.

There’s also the leadership role that Penn will need to fulfill this season. Without Buss and Cahill, this team will need some leaders to step up and help out senior forward Kym Royster in that role.

Along with attacking the basket, another one of Penn’s goals is “to be a more vocal leader.” She knows that she will be a playmaker and will have to be a mentor for the younger players thanks to the incredible experience she earned last season.

Bendu Yeaney

Yeaney will have several roles this year. Similar to Penn, having started many games a year ago and received valuable experience all season, she will need to become more of a leader.

With her play, Yeaney can serve as a “Swiss army knife.” She has worked on her shooting, defense and ball handling over the summer, hoping to contribute to the team in every way possible.

On paper, Indiana doesn’t have a “point guard.” Junior transfer Ali Patberg will more than likely get the nod at point, but expect to see a heavy dose of Yeaney bringing the ball up the court as well.

“We’re gonna have to use Bendu a little bit at that backup point guard position, but any of them, all of them are capable, I should say, of getting the ball and starting, leading us down the floor in an up-tempo fashion,” Moren said.

Moren stressed that the Hoosiers still want to push the tempo. Yeaney is someone who, if she gets a rebound or an outlet pass, Moren feels comfortable with her handling the point.

Yeaney didn’t take a lot of threes, but when she did, she was solid, shooting 39 percent from beyond the arc. Her overall field goal percentage, however, was less than stellar, shooting 37 percent from the floor. That’s something Yeaney worked on over the summer.

Identical to Penn, Yeaney improved exponentially throughout the season. That culminated in the WNIT, where she scored double-digit points in the team’s final five games, including 14 points and a big three pointer during the fourth quarter in their championship win over Virginia Tech.

She also shot the ball better in the WNIT. Yeaney finished the tournament shooting 47 percent from the field and 4-of-7 from three.

Keyanna Warthen

Warthen could have the biggest leap of any member of this sophomore class. Last season, while seeing action in every game, she only averaged 11.1 minutes per game. Warthen averaged 2.5 points per game and shot 38 percent from the field.

The expectations of a deeper Indiana team combined with her improvement over the offseason has Moren excited for what Warthen could produce this season.

“Key, to me, is somebody that’s really transformed, not just her body, but when I see her in individual stuff and watch her between the lines, just that year of understanding concepts, understanding defensively where she’s supposed to be and where she needs to be,” Moren said.

Warthen has always been someone Moren could rely upon on the defensive side. Now that she has improved her offensive game and has matured in the system, there are high expectations for a big year form Warthen.

“The transformation of Keyanna Warthen I think is going to be big for us,” Moren said.

Linsey Marchese and Alexis Johnson

Marchese was utilized a lot down the stretch of last season. She was a strong defensive presence in the paint and a brute force on the glass.

She ended the season averaging just under two rebounds per game and shooting 50 percent from the floor in her 12 minutes per game of action.

Redshirt junior Brenna Wise said that Marchese has improved her finishing and will have a big impact again in the paint this season for the Hoosiers. With a guard heavy team, expect to see a considerable amount of playing time for Marchese.

Johnson appeared in six games last season, seeing a few minutes in the WNIT against UT Martin and Purdue. Moren has mentioned that “all of the sophomore class have made tremendous strides” during the offseason, including Johnson.

Her role as a forward could be one similar to Marchese. This team only has four forwards/centers on the roster. If the Hoosiers don’t want to play small-ball, they will likely look to both Marchese and Johnson throughout the season to give their starters breathers.

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