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YSU’s 2022-2023 season a mixed bag, but mostly a success

Correspondent file photo / Robert Hayes YSU guard Megan Callahan drives towards the basket during the Penguins’ loss to Milwaukee on Feb. 17. Callahan is one of the team’s three departing seniors.

YOUNGSTOWN — From the high of beating Green Bay in the Kress Center to the low of losing four of its final five games, the 2022-23 season was a roller coaster for Youngstown State.

But, with an overall record of 19-11 and a conference record of 13-7, it still has to be considered a success even without a postseason berth.

The year began with an exciting 81-72 victory over Wofford — a team which played in the WNIT the year before — before faltering into a three-game losing streak in which YSU was kept to under 55 points twice, including a 44-point night at Akron.

Then came a seven-game win streak that included Horizon League wins at Wright State and Northern Kentucky before Cleveland State ended the run with a competitive 77-68 win at the Beeghly Center on Dec. 29.

And so by the start of the new year, the Penguins showed everything they could be — good and bad.

Some final thoughts on the campaign:

Inconsistency was YSU’s killer

At its best, Youngstown State looked like a true-to-form John Barnes team: working inside out via strong forward play from Lilly Ritz and sharpshooting from the arsenal of guards the Penguins had to go with a suffocating defense.

But when Ritz or the perimeter players (or in some cases, both) struggled, things tended to get out of hand, whether it was turnovers, missed shots or a combination of both, that also led to lackluster defensive energy.

In the season’s first loss, a 77-63 decision at Penn State, it was 26 turnovers that did the Penguins in. A game later at Akron, it was a 1-for-20 night from 3-point range, and then another game later it was a 16-for-55 night at Western Michigan that included a 4-for-25 performance from downtown.

For the most part, that was a trend that carried through the season: Tough shooting nights or nights of inefficient offense were almost always too much to overcome, as they impacted YSU’s defense.

And here and there, it was the defense that would slip in spite of a stellar night offensively, like in YSU’s 87-80 loss at IUPUI.

At their best, the Penguins were among the Horizon League’s top teams, but maintaining that stretch from game to game proved to be a challenge, particularly from February onward.

Still a strong year

None of that’s to say YSU didn’t piece together a good year, though.

Barnes and Co. once again went and found contributors in the portal — and ones that all can come back for next year, by the way — and in the face of roster turnover, were able to string together a 19-win season. The year included a seven-game win streak in December as well as separate four-game win streaks.

In fact, the 19 wins are the fifth-most under Barnes in his 10 seasons at YSU. The Penguins have had four seasons with 20 or more wins since 2013-14.

Portal impacts

It’s been two years since the transfer portal really became what it is now.

Once again, it proved to be important for YSU. Of the starting five to end the year — Megan Callahan, Dena Jarrells, Lilly Ritz, Malia Magestro and Paige Shy — only Magestro came to Youngstown as a freshman recruit.

Callahan, Ritz and Shy entered the program ahead of the 2021-22 campaign, while Jarrells came last summer. She spent the early portions of the season as one of the first players off the bench before eventually taking over starting point guard duties in the middle of the season.

In terms of scoring, YSU averaged 67.2 points per game. Of those, 52.5 points came from transfers — just over 78 percent.

It’s probable that the Penguins continue that approach again this offseason.

Big shoes to fill

On that note, Youngstown State has its work cut out for it this spring and summer.

Ritz and Callahan — YSU’s top two scorers and First and Third All-Horizon League Team selections, respectively — head up the group of departing seniors that also includes Lindsey Mack.

Ritz, the Horizon League’s defensive player of the year, led the scoring at 17.4 points per game and also snagged a team-high 11.3 rebounds per contest, while Callahan led the team in minutes per game (31.4) and scored 10.7 points per game. More than that, though, Callahan, a transfer from Robert Morris, was the steadiest guard YSU had from game to game, and her experience — she played all six of her seasons in the Horizon League — will be tough to replicate.

The bright side? Transfers shouldn’t hit YSU too hard this offseason, at least in terms of players who played meaningful amounts of minutes, and YSU’s staff has shown an innate ability to find good matches in the portal.

jwhetzel@tribtoday.com

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