Penguins prep for tournament time

Women’s basketball team cheering for their victory over Robert Morris University. Photo courtesy of Robert Hayes

By Cameron Niemi

The Youngstown State University women’s basketball team ended the regular season with two games on the road. On Feb. 21, it traveled to Indianapolis, Indiana to take on fourth place Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis. 

The Jaguars defeated the Penguins 87-80 and dropped Youngstown State to 12-7 in the Horizon league standings, as they lost their third straight game. 

Despite the loss, fifth-year senior Lilly Ritz recorded her 15th double-double of the season. She scored 20 points, 14 rebounds and five steals, which tied a season high. Senior Dena Jarrells scored a season high 25 points and dished out five assists. 

The Penguins had a 10-point lead after the first quarter. The Jaguars climbed back and led by five at halftime. 

Youngstown State continued to fight back and tied the game twice in the third quarter. IUPUI outscored the Penguins by three points in the fourth and went on to secure the seven-point victory and jumped the Penguins in Horizon Leagues standings. 

On Feb. 25, the women traveled to Moon Township to take on Robert Morris University. The Penguins ended their losing streak and defeated the Colonials 65-51, which finished the regular season on a high note. 

Ritz recorded her fifth-straight double-double, as she scored 17 points and 15 rebounds. Sixth-year senior Megan Callahan also scored 17 points and junior Malia Magestro scored 11 points. 

The Penguins played well defensively, and held the Colonials to just 19 points in the first half. Youngstown State led at halftime 35-19. 

In the second half, the Colonials made a comeback. They outscored the Penguins 24-9 and cut the lead to one point heading into the fourth. 

The ‘Guins started the quarter off hot, with an early 7-0 run. They locked up in the fourth, and held RMU to just eight points and outscored them by 13. 

The Penguins secured the 14-point victory, and concluded the regular season with a 13-7 record in the Horizon League. The women hold the four seed in the Horizon League Tournament, which grants them a first-round bye. 

Head coach John Barnes spoke about the conference tournament and hosting a home game.

“I think it’s pretty exciting for this city, this is the most excitement I’ve seen for basketball in my 10 years here. The crowds have been unbelievable. The buzz around the teams especially the men’s team winning a Horizon League championship. I think it’s going to be an unbelievable crowd and a true tournament atmosphere,” Barnes said. 

Callahan spoke about the importance of this game and what it means to the team. 

“Every team wants it more in March. It’s your last, it’s the last for your seniors, for the girls who are not sure if they are staying next year, it’s the last for everyone in a lot of situations. I think everyone is just a little bit more hungrier, more excited, everyones out for a little bit more blood in March,” Callahan said. “Going into tournament time, we are ready to be playing our best basketball.”

Horizon League honors were also announced earlier this week. Ritz was named womens Defensive Player of the Year. She led the conference in rebounds, was second in blocks and tied for fifth in steals and became the first Penguin in school history to win this award. 

She also made her second-straight All-League First Team, which has been done by one other player at YSU. Ritz led the conference in field-goal percentage and double-doubles. Callahan made All-League Third Team honors. 

The Penguins will host the quarterfinals matchup at 5:30 p.m. March 2 at the Beeghly Center, versus fifth-seeded Northern Kentucky University. The game can be listened to on 570 WKBN or watched on ESPN+.