By Dan Hiner
As the Youngstown State University women’s basketball team prepares to play Oberlin College on Dec. 6, the Penguins’ rotation will feature several freshmen, but most of the attention will focus on the two breakout guards.
YSU’s starting point guard Indiya Benjamin and shooting guard Nikki Arbanas have started all six games this season. The backcourt tandem has been able to play off of each other’s strength during the first several games of the season, and have formed a connection early in their collegiate careers.
“It’s always nice to have another freshman with me so I wasn’t the only one and I think we play really well together,” Arbanas said.
Benjamin is currently third on the team in scoring with 10.2 points per game. She is the first Penguin in 13 years to score 10 or more points in the first four games during her freshman season.
Benjamin has shown good ball control during her first six starts. She has a 1.3 assist-to-turnover ratio. She didn’t commit a turnover through the first two games and, with the exception of one game, hasn’t committed more than three turnovers in any game this season.
“It gave me a lot of confidence, and it made the defenses try to pick it up during the games,” Benjamin said. “Turnovers are expected when you play point guard in basketball.”
Head coach John Barnes was impressed by Benjamin’s control the offense and her ability to manage the game as a freshman.
“Indiya does a great job controlling the game from the point guard spot,” he said. “She has a great feel for the game and makes everyone around her better. She uses her speed and quickness both on offense and defense to set the tempo.”
Arbanas is averaging 9.2 points per game. She had a breakout game during the season opener against Niagara University. Arbanas scored 25 points, a YSU record for a freshman in a season opener.
“I definitely wasn’t easy coming off that game because I felt like I had to play up to par all the time,” Arbanas said. “I just know with the team behind all of us, we don’t have to worry about points — just working together and playing hard.”
Arbanas has been consistent from behind the 3-point arch, tied for the team lead with a 50 percent 3-point percentage. She has made a 3-pointer in five straight games to begin the season, but Barnes praises Arbanas for her all-around game.
“Nikki is a very solid player all the way around,” Barnes said. “Not only is she a very good shooter, she is also a tenacious defender. She is one of the most mentally tough players on our team.”
Barnes didn’t expect to have two freshmen in his backcourt to begin the season.
“I did not expect them to start them for the season opener, but at the preseason went on they both worked very hard and earned their starting positions,” Barnes said.
Both Benjamin and Arbanas have been named the Horizon League Freshman of the Week. Arbanas was received the honor after the opening week of the season. Benjamin recently won the award for her performance during the Thanksgiving Classic that took place Nov. 29-30.