Young Penguins have potential
BEAVER TOWNSHIP — The Youngstown State women’s basketball team won 22 games last year and went 16-1 at home with a 13-5 Horizon League mark.
They finished tied for third with IUPUI and right behind Wright State (16-2) and runner-up Wisconsin-Green Bay (15-3).
Despite losing their top two scorers — Alison Smolinski and Sarah Cash along with guard Melinda Trimmer (she finished second in assists with 127) to graduation, YSU coach John Barnes feels like he enters the upcoming season with a deeper unit than he had a season ago.
Barnes spoke to the Curbstone Coaches during Monday’s weekly meeting at Avion Banquet Center, saying he’s excited about the upcoming campaign because pre-season practices have created a healthy, heated competition at all positions for a young-but-talented Penguins team.
“I’m excited about this year because we won’t be top-heavy grade-wise, and unlike the last few seasons we’re a much deeper team,” he said. “We were thin last year due to injuries, and I’m interested to see how this plays out.”
With only one senior and four juniors dotting his 14-player roster, he’ll look for his five upperclass team members to provide much-needed leadership as they eye a return to post-season play — they’re coming off a Women’s NIT at-large berth.
In six previous seasons at the helm, Barnes’ teams have won at least 21 games three times and been absolutely outstanding off the court, having appeared on the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association Academic Top-25 Team Honor Roll five of those campaigns.
If the team is to meet his expectations, then Mary Dunn (12.6 points per game, 5.7 rebounds per game), his lone senior, must have a stellar year.
“Mary was our team captain last year and is our team captain again this year,” Barnes added. “She was a great force a year ago, shot over 55 percent from the field and is a great leader. She’s also a pre-season all-conference selection for the second straight year.”
His four juniors include Chelsea Olson (10.8 ppg, 7.1 rpg and a team-leading 146 assists), McKenah Peters (8.8 ppg, 5.4 rpg), and transfer additions Emma VanZanten and Ny’Dajah Jackson.
“Chelsea was the only underclassmen in the nation last year to average at least 10.7 points, 7.0 rebounds and five assists per game,” Barnes noted. “She’s a second-team pre-season pick for the second straight year, earned second-team honors last year and is very level headed. You know what you’re going to get from her night in and night out.
“McKenah started 31 of 32 games last year, is blue collar and a big-time defender who works very hard as well. Emma is a transfer from Western Michigan who sat out last year, is a post player with great size underneath, can post-up and score around the bucket. Like Mary, she also has a nice outside shot and is expected to see considerable minutes this year.
“Ny’Dajah is a strong, athletic guard and a transfer from Providence. She can shoot the 3 and gives us the added dimension of applying defensive pressure, something we haven’t had the past few seasons.”
The two sophomores include Amara Chikwe (1.9 ppg, 4.8 rpg), who has been dealing with some medical issues in the pre-season, and Deleah Gibson (2.1 ppg, 29 assists), who Barnes said played significant minutes as a true freshman and has worked hard in the pre-season.
His seven freshmen include Gabby Lupardus and Taylor Petit, redshirts a season ago, and Mady Aulbach, Quinece Hatcher, Maddie Schires, Lexi Wagner and Jen Wendler.
“We’ve had a very competitive pre-season, and the players understand that they have to bring it every single day,” Barnes said.
The Penguins finished first in the league in scoring (71.1 ppg) last season and with a challenging schedule — they face Canisius in their season opener on Nov. 5 — that awaits, they’ll need to develop chemistry early so they can be ready when conference play arrives.
“Robert Morris won their league, Kent State is always tough, Akron’s a challenge and we play at Indiana University,” Barnes said. “Wisconsin-Green Bay is picked to win the league, Wright State is second, IUPUI third and we’re picked to finish fourth.
“You hope to be picked in the top-four or higher each year. This gives us reason to work our tails off and want to compete for the title so we can prove the pre-season pollsters wrong.”
Next Monday, Dana Balash, WFMJ, TV-21 sports director will serve as guest speaker.