By Joe Scalzo
In less than two months, Youngstown State senior Liz Hornberger has gone from having “a major breakdown” over the possibility of going 0-30 in her last season to believing the Penguins can win the Horizon League.
That doesn’t sound as crazy this week, considering YSU is coming off its first win over Green Bay since 2005, but it’s worth remembering that the Penguins entered conference play with a 4-9 record that included two Division II victories.
Now they’re off to their first 3-0 start since joining the Horizon League.
“It seems like a switch turned on,” Hornberger said. “I don’t know what it was. I don’t know if some girls took new attitudes toward conference or what, but we had a meeting after [the] non-conference [season] was over and said, ‘Look, it’s a new season. Who cares what they think? We’re gonna win conference this year.’”
That confidence stems from two things. First, YSU coach John Barnes knew his team’s early-season struggles were due, in part, to a tough schedule. VCU (15-3), West Virginia (15-2), IUPUI (12-6) and Delaware (10-4) all have double-digit wins. And only two of YSU’s losses came to losing teams — and one of those was Akron, which is 7-8.
The second confidence-booster has been YSU’s development under Barnes, who radically changed the Penguins’ offensive and defensive styles after they had so much success under Bob Boldon, who left for Ohio University in the offseason.
“The biggest thing is confidence and believing in the new system,” Barnes said. “It’s hard for any team when it gets a new coach, especially when you’re a replacing a coach that was very successful. Coach Boldon did a great job here. He got them to the WNIT. And then you get a new guy coming in with a lot of different ideas.
“I give the seniors credit for buying in.”
Can YSU win the Horizon League? It’s too early to say. But after losing Boldon, conference player of the year Brandi Brown (to graduation) and all-newcomer selection Shar’Rae Davis (out for the year with colitis), the Penguins have a better chance than anyone thought.
“We’re only three games into the conference season, so we have a long way to go,” Barnes said. “The big thing is just to get better every day. I feel like we have been doing that.”