Penguins reach the end of the road

Senior Lindsey Linard attempts a layup in a home playoff game against IUPUI. Photo by Dylan Lux / The Jambar

By Cameron Niemi / The Jambar

The Youngstown State University women’s basketball team had an unexpected change at the start of its 2023-2024 season when head coach John Barnes took a leave of absence in early October.

Shortly after Barnes’s leave, assistant coach John Nicolais was named interim head coach of the team.

Almost five months later, the team finished the regular season with a 13-17 overall record and a 9-11 record in the Horizon League.

YSU finished seventh in conference play and earned a first round home game in the 2024 Barbasol Horizon League Championship.

The Penguins hosted the tenth seeded Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis on March 5 inside Beeghly Center. The Penguins defeated the Jaguars, 73-50, in the first round matchup.

Senior Malia Magestro led the team with 18 points. Sophomore Abby Liber came off the bench and added 13 points. Junior Haley Thierry shot 3-of-3 from beyond the arc and finished with 12 points.

Fifth-year senior Emily Saunders led the team in rebounds with six, along with three blocks. Fifth-year senior Mady Aulbach dished out a team-high five assists.

As a team, the Penguins shot 46% from the field and 50% from three-point range. The ‘Guins defense was stout as the team had nine steals in the game and 24 defensive rebounds.

Nicolais said it was important to get the win at home, especially for the fifth-year seniors on the team.

“It was important to send them off on the right note here at home,” Nicolais said. “The last two years we weren’t able to get a tournament win here at home, which is unfortunate. It’s nice to get one and survive and advance.”

Aulbach said it was bittersweet playing in front of the home crowd one last time.

“I am just really grateful that I got to play at Youngstown, and I really want this to last as long as we can make it last,” Aulbach said. “I am forever indebted to this place. I’m just really thankful I’ve got to be a Penguin for this long.”

With the win, YSU advanced to the quarterfinals and traveled to Wisconsin to take on the second seeded University of Wisconsin-Green Bay on March 7.

Youngstown State was eliminated by the Phoenix, 94-57, ending the team’s run in the Horizon League Championship.

Fifth-year senior Shay-Lee Kirby led the team with 15 points, while Magestro scored 14.

Green Bay had five players score in double figures, and its bench outscored Youngstown State, 41-10. The Phoenix took a lead early in the first quarter and held it throughout the rest of the game.

Green Bay won the Horizon League Championship on March 12 to book its ticket to the March Madness tournament.

Despite the loss in the quarter finals, the Penguins secured their first Horizon League tournament win in three years.

YSU finished the season with a 14-18 overall record and 9-7 at home.

Earlier this season, the team announced seven high school seniors who signed a National Letter of Intent to play at YSU next season.

Youngstown State will lose six fifth-year players who ended their careers in Youngstown: Aulbach, Saunders, Kirby, Dena Jarrells, Paige Shy and Jen Wendler.

Over the next few months, the rest of the team’s players will decide to stay or enter the NCAA transfer portal for the 2024-2025 season.

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