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Women working around injuries

YOUNGSTOWN — Gabby Lupardus has taken to the floor the last couple of games for the Youngstown State women’s basketball team.

Her knee brace is still visible, a sign of the two ACL tears she’s had as one of the best players in West Virginia high school history.

The YSU redshirt freshman guard had her heart ache when she saw fellow redshirt freshman Taylor Petit go down with what is called an upper body injury at Northern Kentucky. Petit and Lupardus were both out last season with injuries lingering from their high school playing days.

Junior guard/forward McKenah Peters went out with an ankle injury at Wright State. That was at the start of the Penguins five-game road trip.

YSU currently has eight active players. Mary Dunn and Emma VanZanten, 6-foot-3 and 6-4 posts, have been out since mid-November. Amara Chikwe, a 6-1 forward, has had lingering effects from an early-season concussion. Freshman 5-10 guard Lexi Wagner suffered a season-ending injury prior to the season.

Lupardus and the remainder of the seven active players are at Cleveland State tonight, starting at 7. It’s part of a five-game road stretch for the Penguins (9-6, 2-2 Horizon League).

Lupardus is taking advantage of her increased playing time. As she said YSU coach John Barnes told the team, it’s adversity or opportunity. She’s chosen the later.

“For me, it’s a great opportunity to get out there, get back into the game and prove what I can do, just as many other subs can,” said the 5-8 guard. “It’s exciting. I hate that everyone is hurt, but people have to step up.”

Practices, that’s another story. YSU works against male practice players, but since the university doesn’t resume second semester until next week, those players have been scarce of late.

Could the Penguins bring aboard former high school girls basketball players who attend YSU?

“There’s a lot of NCAA rules in terms of who can come in and practice and who can’t,” Barnes said. “They have to be certified through the NCAA, have a physical and all that stuff. It takes some time to be able to do that. The hardest part is school is not in session. We have a male practice team, basically. Most of them aren’t here right now.

“We’ll be getting them back soon. Hopefully some of the players that are out, we’ll be getting back.”

The prognosis for Dunn and VanZanten is not hopeful, Barnes said. Depending on their progress, Petit and Peters could return in a week.

“We’re not going to get either one back anytime soon at this point,” Barnes said of Dunn and VanZanten. “That’s a little disheartening. When Mary and Emma went down, we wondered what the heck we were going to do. We won seven of eight, with the only loss at No. 12 Indiana.

“I’m hopeful that some players are going to step up and we’re going to find a way and work really hard. If we do that, we can accept the results, win or lose.”

That leaves YSU with a guard-oriented team facing a Vikings (12-3, 2-2) team which heavily relies on a 2-3 zone. They are led by Mariah Miller, the league’s top scorer at 19.5 points per game. Mariah White puts in 15 a game, while JaMiyah Braxton ranks second in the Horizon in 3-pointers, while Savannah Crockett is fifth in rebounds.

Can the guard-laden YSU team take advantage of a 2-3 defense tonight?

“It gives us some opportunities we wouldn’t get against some other teams, but they’ll take away some things that man-to-man allows you to do,” Barnes said. “I think we’re a pretty good team at running sets and running sets to players who are hot, or that we want to get a mismatch for. That kind of takes it away, also gives your playmakers a chance to get into the paint and make things happen.”

Barnes remains optimistic as Petit and Peters, recent freshman and player of the week in the Horizon, could be returning within a week.

“They will be back,” he said. “It’s just a matter of time. When they do come back, we have a lot more experience to those players who didn’t get time before these two got hurt.”