By Joe Scalzo
Think of last season as a balloon. The Youngstown State women’s basketball team spent the first two months filling it up, then the last two months watching it deflate.
After winning 10 of their first 21 games, the Penguins finished the winter with nine straight losses. The last two, including a Horizon League tournament game, came at Cleveland State over a three-day stretch in early March.
“We watched both of those games [this week],” said Penguins coach Bob Boldon, “and the big difference I saw was the energy level was a night and day difference.
“I don’t think we played [those games] with a great deal of effort compared to now.”
YSU (11-5, 1-2 HL) begins a key stretch in the Horizon League tonight at CSU. With winnable games looming against Loyola and UIC, tonight’s game could be the start of something big — or something all too familiar.
The key to victory is simple: stop senior forward Shalonda Winton, who leads the Vikings in points (22 per game), rebounds (10.9), assists (4.6) and blocks (1.2). She ranks in the top two in the league in all four categories.
“She’s an elite player,” Boldon said. “She could very well be the best player in the league. As far as filling up a stat sheet, she’s definitely the best.
“She’s the most versatile player that we’ll play against this year. She’ll be a big challenge for us to try to contain.”
While the Penguins’ defense has improved since last year — opponents are scoring 10 fewer points per game — YSU’s offense, particularly its 3-point shooting, is still a concern.
Boldon’s motion offense is built around outside shooters and he needs that outside threat to open things up for senior Brandi Brown inside.
“It’s very difficult to be successful in our offense when we’re not shooting the ball well,” he said. “We’re working on it and I’m hoping one day our hard work will pay off so we can make a run at the conference in the next couple weeks.”