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Wisconsin freshmen key for YSU

YOUNGSTOWN — Maddie Schires looks around at the other four players.

Sometimes there’s juniors Ny’Dajah Jackson and Chelsea Olson, players with NCAA Division I experience.

She knows she’s one of many freshmen out on the court playing more minutes than they normally would otherwise. Injuries in the frontcourt and backcourt have hindered the Penguins (11-13, 7-5 Horizon League) this season in a midst of a six-game losing streak.

They’ve played with as few as eight active players. The list is many, but it doesn’t deter players like Schires, who comes from Wisconsin.

The 5-foot-8 guard is closing on the YSU freshman 3-point record of 55. Schires has 53 and is the leading 3-point shooter among current active players.

“Wisconsin basketball has always been competitive, being able to get out and compete,” said Schires, a former first-team, all-Wisconsin player. “Each one of us has that mentality.”

Same could be said of Jen Wendler, a 6-2 forward. Injuries have decimated YSU’s front line, but Wendler has steadily improved throughout the season. She averaged about seven points and four rebounds per game.

She learned from YSU 6-3 senior Mary Dunn and 6-4 junior Emma VanZanten before the two were hurt in mid-November.

“It’s been really tough, but it’s shown me that I can play against them, even being so young,” Wendler said. “I’ve learned a lot. Before Emma and Mary got hurt, I was playing against them all summer. That showed me a lot. It’s helped me build me confidence to get through it.”

Wendler and Schires played on the same AAU team for two years in Wisconsin. The two still practice together at YSU.

“We shoot together,” Wendler said. “I practice passing it to her, She feeds it into me.”

Schires is impressed with Wendler’s progress.

“We need to get the ball in more,” Schires said. “Jen’s a great post player. She’s done a couple of good things for us this year, which is helpful.

“She’s had to step up and she has as best as possible. Finding her in the post is still an emphasis.”

Wendler has coming into the gym more often, shooting the basketball.

“I’ve been shooting with Emma, too,” Wendler said. “She know if I’m doing a post move right, if I travel or something. She’s able to pick that out. If I’m shooting with a guard, I’m shooting. It’s good to have her. Same with Mary and Amara (Chikwe).”

Chikwe has been out with a concussion. Freshman Lexi Wagner is out with an ACL tear, while redshirt freshman Taylor Petit and junior McKenah Peters have battled through their share of injuries.

Saturday, YSU looks to snap a six-game losing streak against Ohio rival Cleveland State (17-7, 7-6). The Vikings had to make a fourth-quarter surge against the Penguins a month ago to beat YSU by eight points. Last Saturday, the Penguins almost knocked off a resilient Northern Kentucky team.

“Our kids are battling,” YSU coach John Barnes said. “We’re giving ourselves a chance to win or close night in, night out with a limited roster. It has to do with those two playing their tails off, learning and getting better.”

Schires said for her team to get over that plateau and win, they must cut down on the mental mistakes – silly turnovers and being in the wrong spot on sets.

“We have a lot of freshman playing, which means we’re limited to mistakes on the court for us to win,” Schires said. “Mentally, we have to be sharper.”

This isn’t the YSU women’s basketball team anyone envisioned this season, but it’s the one the Penguins have persevered through all season with freshmen who should be playing more of a reserved role.

“It’s nicer to slowly get 5-10 minutes a game and work their way up to 10-15 where they can be more comfortable,” Barnes said. “They (Schires and Wendler) didn’t have that choice. Both of them are doing a tremendous job.”

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