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Penguins boast experience for 2022

Photo courtesy of Youngstown State Athletics Youngstown State’s Paige Shy, right, and Lilly Ritz, left, matchup during practice on Monday.

YOUNGSTOWN — From John Barnes perspective, the Youngstown State women’s basketball team has a long way to go before it’s ready for the season. Thankfully for the head coach and his team, that first game is still almost six weeks away.

College basketball teams across the country began their preseason practices Monday, including YSU. Early on, Barnes says the team will lean on its experience.

“I think we’re working hard and we’re focused,” he said. “We have a long way to go, obviously trying to knock the rust off, but I feel like we do have a lot of experience. So hopefully we can come around quickly.”

Among those returning from last season’s team, which qualified for the WNIT and went 24-7, are guards Malia Magestro, Megan Callahan, Mady Aulbach and Paige Shy — each of which started at various points last season — as well as reserves Lindsey Mack and Haley Thierry.

In the frontcourt, 2021-22 All-Horizon League First Team selection Lilly Ritz returns to anchor the post.

They’ll look to mesh with an impressive group of newcomers, including transfers Dena Jarrells (Chattanooga, point guard), Shay-Lee Kirby (Austin Peay, shooting guard) and Emily Saunders (Tennessee, center), all of which were AUU teammates with Shy in high school. Freshman guard Mackenzie Hurd also joins the Penguins this season.

So far, the group has meshed “really well” according to Barnes.

“Our newcomers, besides (Hurd), have all played with other players on our team already,” Barnes said. “So, Emily Saunders is a 6-foot-5 post from Tennessee, and just her size and she’s got very good hands and a nice touch around the basket.

“Shay Kirby was the starting two guard for Austin Peay, averaged double figures and shot 40 percent from three. She’s very long and athletic and has the ability to shoot the three so well, so she’s doing a great job of fitting in.”

Of Jarrells, he added, “She was the starting point guard for Chattanooga, and Dena has a really nice feel for the game. Offensively, she’s a very good shooter, ball handler, and can come off ball screens, read the defense and make things happen. I think she’ll do a great job of getting assists and helping the players around her be better.”

That group has two major questions to answer, Barnes says: How strong will the defense be, and how will the team go about replacing the talent and leadership of Chelsea Olson?

Defense was undoubtedly a strength of this team a season ago, as the Penguins gave up 57.2 points per game, the third-best mark in the Horizon League.

Olson, meanwhile, graduated after spending five seasons putting together a Hall of Fame-worthy career for the Penguins.

“Defensive toughness and rebounding are always crucial points,” he said. “And Chelsea was such a big facilitator. She was really good at making players around her better. I think she had 138 assists last year or something like that, so that’s a lot that we have to make up for.

“We’re going to need several players to step up that can help the players around them be better, and in turn that makes the team better. So as this preseason continues, we’ll see who that is and go from there.”

For now, however, Barnes does like that this year’s crop of players focuses well on what their individual responsibilities are.

“I think everyone is focused on doing their jobs and playing their roles,” Barnes said. “Overall, I think that’s what I love about this team. They just embrace their role, do it the best they can, and hopefully that pays off down the stretch.”

The season begins with a home game against Wofford on Nov. 7.

jwhetzel@tribtoday.com

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