By Joe Scalzo
Shar’Rae Davis, Amanda Barger and Taylor Hvisdak will not be playing for Youngstown State’s women’s basketball team next season, but they want to make one thing clear: It wasn’t their choice.
Head coach John Barnes released the three players from their scholarships following the season, his first with the Penguins. Barnes replaced Bob Boldon last spring after Boldon was hired by Ohio University following a three-year stint at YSU.
All three players were Boldon recruits.
YSU does not offer multi-year scholarships and the NCAA does not require schools to renew one-year scholarships, although players have the option of appealing the decision when coaches do not renew.
Davis, who made the Horizon League’s all-newcomer team as a freshman point guard in 2012-13, missed this season while batting ulcerative colitis, which forced her to withdraw from school. But the Grand Haven, Mich., native said she planned to return to YSU for the 2014-15 season.
“I was actually setting up all my classes and getting back into the Courtyard Apartments,” she said. “When I would sit in the stands [at YSU games], so many fans asked me if I was coming back and I said, ‘Yeah, of course.’ I really love the fans. They supported me so much and I didn’t want them to think I was going back against my word.”
Davis said the reason Barnes gave for releasing her was because she committed an NCAA violation before a Feb. 8 road game against Oakland. Davis drove three hours from her Grand Haven home to visit the team, staying in a team hotel room overnight. Because she was not a member of the team, she was required to pay for the hotel room (“I did that,” she said) and is facing a three-game suspension at the beginning of next season.
“I went to the hotel to be around the team and ended up falling asleep in one of the hotel rooms because it was so late,” she said.
“Honestly, Coach Barnes is kind of forming a mold he wants out of his players and maybe I didn’t fit the mold. I didn’t have any problems with the coaches my freshman year. I enjoyed them and I enjoyed playing with my teammates.”
Davis lost 35 pounds because of the colitis but is back to her normal weight and is on medication. She plans to visit a couple Division I schools and, because she missed this season, she is hoping to avoid sitting out next season for NCAA transfer rules.
“I’m excited to continue my career,” said Davis, who averaged 9.6 points, 4.0 rebounds, 4.3 assists and 1.5 steals in 2012-13. “I’m not angry at Coach Barnes, I wish him the best of luck, but I just want people to know the truth. I know they’re kind of hiding it, saying we transferred or left, but I don’t want people to think I didn’t like Youngstown. People thought I was going to transfer when Boldon left, but I’m really loyal to Youngstown. I was going to stay.”
Barger, a Gurnee, Ill., native, averaged 2.3 points in 14.8 minutes per game as a freshman guard in 2012-13, but played just 21 minutes total this season, appearing in eight games. Barger herniated two disks in her back while squatting during summer workouts but said she was healthy for 18 games this season.
“When Coach Barnes came, I wasn’t his player,” she said. “He made it very apparent that I wasn’t what he wanted, what he was looking for, what he would have recruited.”
Barger said she angered Barnes twice this season for swearing in front of potential recruits. (She said she wasn’t aware there were recruits visiting.) Barnes suspended her after the second incident. When neither recruit chose YSU, Barger said Barnes blamed her, using those incidents as the rationale for not renewing her scholarship.
Barger’s parents want her to appeal the decision, but she is leaning toward going to another school.
“I don’t know why I would appeal to play for someone who extremely dislikes me,” she said. “I had a great freshman year. It’s nothing against YSU. I love the campus and I love the people here. It’s just weird that I only played a minute in games this year when I averaged 15 minutes as a freshman. It’s not like my skills decreased. He just wasn’t willing to play me.”
Hvisdak, a Lowellville High graduate, walked on to the team in 2012-13 and was given a scholarship for this season based on a recommendation by Boldon and several teammates. While Barnes only promised a one-year scholarship, she hoped to prove she deserved to stay on scholarship after this season.
“Personally, I thought I did,” said Hvisdak, who scored a total of 22 points in 101 minutes over 17 games. “I went to practice, I worked hard and did what I had to do. It just didn’t end up working out.”
Hvisdak said her problem isn’t as much with Barnes’ decision not to renew the scholarship as the way he treated her in their post-season meeting.
“I was kind of expecting it,” said Hvisdak. “I would have been OK if he had said, ‘Thank you for all your hard work, but we don’t have enough scholarships, but if you want to stay on [as a walk-on], we would love to have you. Instead he said, ‘Did you actually think I would give you another scholarship?’”
Hvisdak said Barnes did offer her a walk-on spot during the meeting, but made it clear she was unlikely to play next season.
“He diminished me all year,” she said. “That’s one thing Coach Boldon never did. Every time I talked to Barnes, he made it clear he considered me a walk-on and that I should just show up to the games, enjoy traveling and enjoy the experience. And I did enjoy the experience my first year. I had a lot of fun. This year was a little harder on me.”
Barnes declined an interview request for this story. Through a YSU spokesman, he released this statement:
“Any time there are coaching changes, it’s common that some changes in personnel follow for various reasons, regardless of the school and sport. I’m proud of what we accomplished this past season, and I appreciate the effort that all of our student-athletes gave, whether they’ll be returning or not next season, in achieving a top-three finish in the Horizon League and a berth in the semifinals of the league tournament. We wish nothing but success for everyone who has been a part of the YSU women’s basketball program.”