Melissa Jackson named new women’s basketball head coach

Jackson with Strollo and YSU President Bill Johnson. Photo courtesy of

By Molly Burke
Jambar Contributor

A new coach has been selected for the Youngstown State University women’s basketball team, which has been without a permanent head coach since John Barnes officially stepped down Jan. 19.

Melissa Jackson, a native of Hazelton, Pennsylvania, was appointed the team’s ninth head coach March 14.

Jackson has coached in Northeast Ohio for the past 16 years. She spent 15 seasons with the University of Akron’s women’s basketball team and was the only coach with a winning record in program history.

Jackson spent the 2023-2024 season as an assistant coach for the Cleveland State University’s women’s basketball program, but stepped down before the team’s postseason to focus on her new chapter with the Penguins.

YSU Athletics hosted a press conference March 18 in Beeghly Center, where Jackson said the women’s basketball program will be centered around five core values: family, passion, toughness, commitment and gratitude.

“Those are going to be the pillars of our program. We’re going to stand on those every single day, whether it’s out in the community, whether it’s in practice and obviously when we compete,” Jackson said.

Jackson met with players a week before the conference. She said her first goal is to work on recruiting, which will be focused on transfers.

“It’s really about the players, about the incoming recruits. Meeting with the team was obviously really important. The transfer portal opened up today,” Jackson said. “We have seven signees, and I’ve been able to talk with them and their families and those have been really positive, great conversations, but nowadays it is the portal.”

As a previous visitor to Beeghly Center, Jackson said she is excited to call YSU home.

“YSU is a sleeping giant. The facilities here, the support, I am so excited to get people to campus and show this place off.” Jackson said. “I can’t wait to engage in this community and pack Beeghly every single night and continue to make it one of the toughest places to play in all of college basketball.”

While Jackson has met with current staff, she has yet to choose her coaching staff for next season.

“I met with the current staff last week, had some great conversations with them, really very much in flux right now. Obviously, being a head coach before, there’s a lot of people that I want to talk to. I really want to get the right staff for this program at the right time,” Jackson said.

It is unknown if John Nicholais, the team’s former interim head coach, will return. Nicholais began coaching for the Penguins in 2013.

According to Ron Strollo, executive director of YSU Athletics, the department looked into a few candidates through recruiting efforts. Strollo said Jackson showed interest and was a natural fit for the Penguins.

“For me, I want someone that wants to be here,” Strollo said. “When you start looking at what Melissa was able to bring with us with head coaching experience and experience in Northeast Ohio — and more importantly — when you talk to people that knew her or played for her, the things they said about her made it pretty simple for us.”

During Jackon’s season with Cleveland State, the Vikings won the Horizon League regular season title and were runners-up in the conference tournament. Cleveland State is 29-5, the second-highest single season win total in program history.

In her time with Akron, Jackson served as an assistant coach from 2008 to 2012, associate head coach from 2012 to 2018 and head coach from 2018 to 2022. In her first two seasons, Jackson registered 31 wins, a program record for a coach within their first two seasons.

As associate head coach, Jackson led Akron to its only appearance at the NCAA Tournament in program history in 2014, along with three bids to the Women’s National Invitational Tournament.

As head coach, Jackson led the Zips to a 72-69 record with 40 Mid-American Conference victories. Additionally, Akron appeared at the Women’s Basketball Invitational and WNIT in 2022.

Before coaching in Northeast Ohio, Jackson spent four years with the University of Delaware from 2004 to 2008. Under her coaching, Delaware had two appearances in the WNIT along with an at-large berth to the NCAA Tournament in 2006-2007.

Individually, Jackson has coached successful athletes, including Tyresa Smith — the 18th overall selection in the 2007 WNBA Draft — and three MAC Players of the Year, with 23 All-MAC selections.

Jackson attended the University of Richmond from 2000 to 2004 as a political science major, where she made two appearances in the WNIT with the Spiders.

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