By Rick Henneman
The Youngstown State University women’s basketball team (7-14, 3-7 Horizon League) is set to finish the second half of the Horizon League season with four straight road games, followed by four straight at home. Games away from home haven’t been kind to the Penguins, who are 0-9 in true road games this year.
YSU’s first test was at Valparaiso University (5-16, 0-10 HL) who gave them a tough test at home with a 76-70 victory.
“We’ve been doing everything we can to win at home and on the road,” YSU head coach John Barnes said. “Obviously road games are tougher to win. With Valpo and UIC — our next two games — we’re going to focus on Valpo and do everything we can to get that one and see where it goes from there.”
For Valpo, they will be looking to snap a 12-game losing streak dating back to Dec. 10.
Injuries have plagued the Penguins from the beginning of the season. Mary Dunn, potential Horizon League freshman of the year, missed the game against University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and senior Jenna Hirsch was limited to just 16 minutes. Barnes said that the status of both athletes is changing day-to-day.
“I’m still very unsure on the status of both of them,” Barnes said. “Mary had 18 points against Valpo, so obviously she is very important for that game. Jenna is day-to-day; she is struggling with a bad back. We will see how she is later in the week.”
YSU guard Melinda Trimmer is someone who has seen more playing time due to her teammate’s recent injuries. With 21 minutes in the game against Milwaukee, Trimmer is trying to take advantage of her opportunities.
“No matter what, I’m going to try to do the best I can every time I go out there,” Trimmer said. “It’s really unfortunate what has happened with a few of our teammates. If they are there or not, I’m going to go out there and do the best I can and make the most of my opportunities.”
Trimmer said that the younger players like herself are trying to put in the same amount of effort during practice in spite of all the injuries to the team.
“It [practice] is a lot of learning, but overall it is the same,” Trimmer said. “We are just trying to keep the intensity high no matter what. It’s nice to have the girls who are injured out there talking to us younger girls and helping us throughout the way.”
Trimmer also said that these injuries have changed the team dynamic, since most of the leaders are on the bench talking instead of being on the court.
Although YSU beat Valpo in their last meeting, guard Meredith Hamlet managed a career-high 29 points along with her first career double-double. Barnes explained that defense has been the Penguins’ weakness and is something that will need to be improved to beat Valparaiso a second time.
“We are trying to get stops anytime,” Barnes said. “We’ve really struggled holding teams down. We’re definitely undersized with everyone out, so the rebounding has been a struggle. Valpo is going to be really hungry to get a win. Hamlet had a career game against us and [Dani] Franklin played solid. She is one of the better power forwards in the league. Amber Lindfors is 6-foot-4 in the post and depending on whether Mary is here or not, that will be a challenge too.”
Valparaiso’s Franklin leads the Horizon League in average scoring (18.4 points per game) while Lindfors leads the league in blocked shots with 42 on the year.
The Penguins will face Valparaiso Feb. 2 at 8 p.m. and the University of Illinois-Chicago on Feb. 4 at 4 p.m.