By Brian Yauger
Like I said in the post-game recap of their game against the University of Cincinnati — all good things must come to an end.
The Youngstown State University women’s basketball team closed their season with a record of 22-10, finishing third in the Horizon League and securing a Women’s National Invitation Tournament bid for the third time in school history.
“I think it was a great season,” Penguins coach John Barnes said after the game against Cincinnati. “We lost the all-time leader in assists, the all-time leader in threes. I think a lot of people were thinking .500, maybe a little bit above at best, so to have 22 wins, and that’s on the seniors.”
The WNIT carries a “second-fiddle” stigma to it, but that didn’t matter to the Penguins. The postseason is the postseason to them, the correct attitude to have.
“If you can’t get fired up to play them, then you’re in it for the wrong reasons or you shouldn’t be in it,” Barnes said before the game. “We’ll definitely be fired up, ready to go and ready to compete.”
They were definitely ready.
The three seniors on the team, Sarah Cash, Alison Smolinski and Melinda Trimmer each had outstanding games. They definitely played like they weren’t ready for the season to end. No one on the team wanted it to end, but the three seniors each had special performances.
Trimmer set a career high in her final game, putting up 17 points in what was arguably the best game of her career.
“Obviously, I wish it could continue. I wish we had a few more games left, but I just gave it everything I had knowing this could be my last game,” Trimmer said after the game. “I’m just very honored to have played with these girls, and we couldn’t have accomplished anything without the teammates I have here.”
This season Trimmer really came into her own, ending her career as one of the best point guards in the Horizon League.
It wasn’t just her. Mary Dunn returned this season after a sophomore slump with a vengeance. Chelsea Olson transitioned to playing guard and still led the team in rebounds. McKenah Peters played the role of a lockdown defender, shutting down the best players on every team. Amara Chikwe wound up being utilized as a secret weapon, a perfect role for a player who admitted to loving the “dirty work.”
The Penguins beat every team in the Horizon League at least once, finished first in the Horizon League in field goal percentage, free throw percentage and assist-to-turnover ratio.
YSU also had six of the 17 Horizon League Player of the Week nominations — double what any other team has been awarded. Three players were also awarded All-Horizon League honors, Cash and Olson on the second team, and Dunn on first team.
Cash, Dunn and Trimmer were named to the All-Academic Horizon League team, which was the first time in school history three players were named to the team.
It was a year of milestones all across the board; coach Barnes captured his 100th career victory with the Penguins in their win against the University of Illinois-Chicago in February. He also became the second winningest coach in YSU women’s basketball history.
Smolinski set more records this season than I can count. Seriously. She was absolutely insane, and established herself this season as one of the best players to ever suit up at Beeghly. A YSU Athletics Hall of Fame bid is 100 percent in her future.
Legacy was a key to many a speech from Barnes this season — safe to say his seniors listened.
“The seniors can definitely be proud of how they left the program,” Barnes said after the Cincinnati game. “We talked about this at the beginning of the summer that ‘Hey, this year is your legacy,’ and they can be proud of that.”
It wasn’t just the seniors creating a legacy, everyone on the roster contributed to what is one of the best seasons in program history.
Like I said on my Twitter, (@_brianyauger for those interested), covering this team has been the most fun I’ve had with my job yet. Getting to know this team as players and as people has been great. Thanks to the seniors for always not throwing things at me when they made you do a press conference. Do the Penguins proud in your future endeavors.
To everyone else: Same time next year?