By Steve Wilaj
Penguins women’s basketball head coach John Barnes knows he has plenty of offensive weapons. And, ideally, he wants to use all of them on a nightly basis.
“We want to really score in a wide variety of ways,” he said. “Throw it into the post, but also kick it out for catch-and-shoot 3’s.”
During Saturday morning’s season-opener against Niagara University at the Beeghly Center, the Penguins — just as they hoped to do — spread the wealth. In defeating the Purple Eagles, 83-61, all five Youngstown State University starters scored in double figures.
Freshman guard Nikki Arbanas led the way with 25 points, while senior forward Heidi Schlegel added 18 points and 14 rebounds.
“I thought we did a good job of sharing the basketball,” Barnes said. “Heidi did a good job with five assists. She helps make everyone around her better and I like our other players being aggressive, too, because they’re gonna have to be.”
Arbanas caught fire early on, as her two early 3’s helped key YSU’s 31-14 advantage after the first 10 minutes. And she didn’t let up.
The true freshman from Hermitage, Pennsylvania finished the contest 5 for 5 from behind-the-arc and 8 of 9 overall.
“The first two scrimmages before this helped kind of eased the nerves coming in,” Arbanas said. “And with the help of the older girls — that’s how all of us are able to ease in…We were moving the ball really well today — passing it inside, which gave us open shots on the outside.”
The Penguins — who led 45-27 at the half and never looked back — finished the game with 19 assists on 30 made-shots.
In addition to Arabanas’ and Schlegel’s strong outings, sophomore Jenna Hirsch and freshman Indiya Benjamin each scored 11 points, while Latisha Walker notched 10.
“I thought Nikki handled the pressure well — shot when she was open and took it to the basket when she had those opportunities,” Barnes said. “She played a lot more poised and showed a lot more experience than she really has.
“And I thought Indiya did a really good job, too. She didn’t have any turnovers, so that from a first year kid is pretty exciting.”
Benjamin left the contest midway through the second half with an injury and did not return. Barnes said he expects her to “be fine.” Her exit was the only negative in an otherwise positive debut for the YSU women.
“We’ve been playing since the summer, so we’ve all came together and have learned how to play with each other,” Arbanas said. “I think we played well today. You can always do things better, but I thought we did well.”
The Penguins (1-0) return to action on Tuesday at 5:30 p.m. at Kent State University.