By Joshua Fitch
The Youngstown State University women’s basketball team is ready to tip off a brand new season, starting with defense in mind.
“Our focus has always been defense,” center Mary Dunn said. “But now we know, especially with a smaller team that we have to be 100 percent every time down the court for all the 30 seconds of the shot clock. Don’t give up any offensive rebounds. We have to do it. There’s no way around it.”
Dunn played in all 32 games last season for the Penguins, starting 12 and averaged 6.8 points per game on 57 percent shooting.
Last season, the Penguins finished with a record of 16-16 for a .500 year, but finished 11-7 in the Horizon League, something that was a big step last season.
“I think this season is going to be a lot different just because we have a different dynamic on the team,” Dunn said. “I think we’ve really focused on sticking together as one big unit. I think playing together is what gets us to go far this year.”
The season beings with preseason action against Washington and Jefferson College on Oct. 31. The regular season begins on Nov. 6 at home against Robert Morris University.
With the season coming so quickly there’s a lot to prepare for, but with the leaders on this squad, it makes gearing up for a long season that much easier.
Sarah Cash said the fact that the team is so close, even off the court makes their chemistry better.
Cash, a 6-foot-1 forward, led the team last year in points (11.6) and rebounds (4.5), while scoring her 1,000th-career point against the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay during the Horizon League tournament.
Being a redshirt senior, Cash has been with the YSU basketball program for five seasons. Her teammates respect the leadership and advice she brings to the locker room. It’s also a role Cash is embracing during her last year with the Penguins.
“It’s awesome,” McKenah Peters said. “In practice, she’s always the person I can go up to. She’s always the one to pick you up and encourage and keep pushing you.”
“I think I’ve taken it on,” Cash said of her role. “It wasn’t something I thought that I’d be doing when I first got here but over the years I think with Nikki [Arbanas] being captain at the beginning has helped me become a better captain.”
Being a leader also means finding motivation that the team can thrive off. Going .500 last season is motivation enough for Cash and the Penguins.
“I definitely think we can use that,” Cash said. “We can just look at it as we struggled in the beginning but then we figured out what we needed to do and it’s a lot of the same girls that are back that can play this year. So as long as we look into that and keep going, I think we’ll have a good season.”
Game planning has already begun for the upcoming season, defense being the main focus for many reasons. While rebounding is a large part of that focus, the defensive side of the floor sets up so much for the Penguins as a team.
“Getting stops will push us into our offense and get us easy buckets,” Peters said. “We want to slow things down and work on the offense. We have so many different plays, but any opportunity we get with a quick stop and pushing up the floor. We’re definitely looking to get quick, easy buckets too.”
The Penguins have an overall positive outlook on this upcoming season as any team does, and this group feels something special can happen beginning in November.
“I think the biggest goal is to have a winning season and possibly win the conference,” Peters said. “That would be so awesome. I really think if we put our mind to it and keep working, I think it’s possible.”
The regular season begins at Beeghly Center on Nov. 6 vs. RMU at 7 p.m.