Looking to Build Momentum: YSU Finishes Season with Two Home Games

By Rick Henneman

Indiya Benjamin (3) shoots over the top of both Symone Simmons (23) and Lexi Smith (25) in YSU’s close loss to Wright State University on February 18.

The Youngstown State University women’s basketball team (9-18, 5-11 Horizon League) will play their final two games of the regular season coming off of a 68-64 loss to Horizon League’s best in Wright State University (22-6, 14-2 HL) on Saturday night.

“Wright State is still alone in first place,” YSU head coach John Barnes said about the loss. “To take them right to the wire definitely makes us feel like we can compete with anyone when we are playing well.”

Center Mary Dunn was named Horizon League Freshman of the Week due to her 18 points and 8 rebounds in the overtime win over Northern Kentucky University last week. It was the fourth time this season that Dunn received that award.

“I didn’t expect it coming in,” Dunn said. “I knew when the time came I had to step up. Getting freshman of the week is definitely from my teammates and my coaches. They help me so much whether it is on the court or off the court.”

Dunn also said that she is more motivated to finish the season strong because of her success this year and the opportunity to become freshman of the year.

Barnes said that the team has definitely had its ups and downs this season due to inexperience and injuries. He is impressed with how the team has rallied in the face of adversity.

“I am happy with how many different players, especially young players, have stepped up and taken the reins of a division one team in a good league,” Barnes said. “You can keep going on and on with players who have really been thrown into tough situations and grown.”

The Penguins will play fifth ranked Oakland University (16-11, 10-6 HL) on Thursday and third ranked University of Detroit Mercy (15-12, 11-5 HL) for senior night on Saturday.

YSU lost to Oakland 80-54 on January 22. Oakland now boasts the best scoring offense (76.1 points per game) and rebounding offense (40.8 per game) in the league.

“They really look to fast break a lot, more than anyone else,” Barnes said about the Golden Grizzles. “They push and create a lot of turnovers with their length and athleticism. It seems like every video I watch— They get a steal, a layup or a wide open short shot.”

Oakland had 18 points off of fast breaks in their last meeting with YSU and leads the Horizon League in steals with 11.7 per game.

Barnes also said that having a whole week to prepare for Oakland will help the Penguins get ready for the pressure.

YSU leads the league in three-point field goals made (234) and is third in the conference for three-point percentage (34.1 percent). This in no small part due to the performance of sophomore Alison Smolinski who has made 57 threes in conference play. She is just ten away from tying the all-time Horizon League record.

“It’s unbelievable how much she has grown as a player and how much more aggressive she is now,” Barnes said about Smolinski.

Tamira Ford, Jenna Hirsch and Kelsea Newman will be honored during the senior night game against Detroit Mercy.

Hirsch started in 21 games this year and averaged 6.9 points per game. She is second on the team with 58 assists. Ford started one game so far this season while Newman has been sidelined with an injury for almost all of the year.

The Penguins will tip-off against Oakland on Thursday at 7:00 p.m. and will face Detroit on Saturday at noon.