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Players, coaches learn to overcome

YOUNGSTOWN — Coaches are supposed to instill wisdom in their players. John Barnes has done just that for the Youngstown State University women’s basketball teams since he has been the team’s coach starting in the 2013-14 season.

There’s on-court knowledge, practice habits, life lessons — all things these Penguins have done well the past couple of years. The team has made three WNIT appearances and had a WBI semifinal run, in addition to continued academic excellence, one of the best in the Horizon League and the nation.

The challenge this 3-3 YSU team faces now is overcoming injuries.

Mary Dunn, a 6-foot-3 senior forward and one of the top scorers in the Horizon League with an average of 17 points per game, is out. Emma VanZanten, a 6-4 redshirt junior forward, is also sidelined.

The absence of Dunn, a first-team Horizon League player, is a devastating blow to YSU since its offense is predicated on an inside-out scheme. Dunn is out with a leg injury, while VanZanten’s foot keeps her from playing.

Barnes said Dunn is out at least four to six weeks, while VanZanten also won’t be playing for that span.

Freshman Jen Wendler, a 6-2 forward, is the last post standing for the Penguins. She’s getting much more playing time than she could ever have imagined as a newcomer.

“As much as we can play her, we’re going to try to play her,” Barnes said. “We can continue to play as we normally do.”

The Penguins have five non-conference games before hosting league rivals IUPUI and UIC at the end of the month.

On Tuesday, YSU is at Eastern Kentucky which is 5-2 with wins over Northern Kentucky and Memphis. That’s followed by St. Francis, Pa., which beat Vermont in double overtime Sunday. The Penguins finish their three-game road trip at 6-1 Indiana, which lost to No. 2 Baylor by 15 points.

YSU finishes the non-conference slate against Lake Erie College and Muskingum.

If Dunn is out longer than a month and a half, possibly through the season, she has the option to return for the 2020-21 season on a medical redshirt. She’s only played four games and would be eligible to come back for a fifth season.

VanZanten cannot redshirt since she sat out last season after transferring from Western Michigan.

“We’re sure she’ll be back, it’s just a matter of how much time,” Barnes said of VanZanten.

Barnes has been through these setbacks before. A couple of years ago he lost two players for the season and another only played a handful of games.

This is different, as YSU is down to one post player, a freshman.

Barnes, his coaching staff and remaining players have a different fight on their hands. How will they persevere?

“I’ve been through it before, so I’m kind of numb to it,” Barnes said. “Instead of dwelling on the fact that this really hurts, it’s more of what do we do now? What’s the next step? We’ve got to get people ready. We’ve got to change up a few things, kind of hit the ground running, so to speak.”

Not only do the YSU players learn how to overcome, but so does Barnes and his staff. It’s a life lesson these Penguins learn together.