By Kyle Wills
The Youngstown State University women’s basketball team continued its stellar season, improving to 14-1 while also remaining undefeated in the Horizon League.
To start off the new year, the women defeated Cleveland State University 70-59 on Jan. 1 in what was a physical matchup. Forty-eight fouls were called, including two technicals, and both teams combined shot 55 free throws in the game. There were also several video reviews and a delay to fix the shot clock after being hit on a half-court attempt.
The women’s 27-point second quarter helped them power past the Vikings.
Shining in the contest was senior forward Lilly Ritz as she finished with 20 points and a season-high 14 rebounds. Off the bench, sophomore guard Lexi Wagner was finding the nylon in the second period when she scored 14 of her career-best 19 points. Senior guard Megan Callahan added 14 points and three steals.
Junior guard Mady Aulbach took on the challenge of guarding Cleveland State’s Destiny Leo and held her to 16 points, which tied for her season-low.
Wagner said when she comes into games, she’s looking to shoot when she can and credited being mentally focused for her stellar performance.
“[What helped me was] always being mentally focused and mentally in the game, knowing what defense they play and how to play against them,” Wagner said.
The Penguins had scheduled games Jan. 7 and Jan. 9 against Wright State University and Northern Kentucky University, but were both canceled due to COVID-19 cases. Wright State and Northern Kentucky both had positive cases within their programs, and the Horizon League office matched YSU and Robert Morris University as healthy teams looking for an opponent.
Northern Kentucky sought to deem missed competition that week as “no contests” since it was unable to field a team due to many cases among vaccinated student-athletes. Horizon League commissioner Julie Roe Lach granted the requested relief, noting that it satisfied the extraordinary standard. Wright State also sought to deem missed competition that week as “no contests,” but relief was not granted as circumstances did not meet the extraordinary threshold.
As a result of the rulings, Youngstown State received a forfeit victory over Wright State, and the team’s game against Northern Kentucky was declared a “no contest.”
On Jan. 8, the women hosted Robert Morris for their recently scheduled matchup, defeating the Colonials 59-53. The win pushes the Penguins to 8-0 in conference play and is the only team left undefeated in the Horizon League.
Ritz continued her phenomenal season play, scoring 17 points on 8-for-12 shooting under the rim and snagging 8 rebounds. Senior guard Chelsea Olson recorded a near double-double of 15 points and nine assists. The connection between Ritz and Olson proved to be a problem for the Colonial defense as six of Ritz’s eight baskets were assisted by Olson.
Ritz said scoring 17 points against a physical defense was a confidence boost, but Olson continued to find her in positions to score.
“I wouldn’t be able to do it without my teammates. Chelsea’s obviously a great passer and she just knows where I’m going to be. She just lobs it up, which is a good thing,” Ritz said.
Against her former team, senior guard Megan Callahan scored in double figures as well, scoring 12 points in 37 minutes.
As a team, Youngstown State was able to shoot 22-for-50 from the field, 6-for-19 from 3-point, while holding Robert Morris 20-for-52 overall, 6-for-15 beyond the arc.
Head coach John Barnes said the team struggled to handle the ball in the first half, but a cleaner second half helped the team prevail.
“The biggest thing was we took care of the ball in the second half. We only had three turnovers in the second half. We had eight in the first quarter and when you play a team like [Robert Morris] that plays really hard, the margin of error is small,” Barnes said.
On Jan. 12, the Horizon League released this week’s College Insider Women’s Mid-Major Top-25 poll, ranking Youngstown State at 20.
The women’s basketball team will continue its season in conference play, hosting the University of Illinois Chicago at 7 p.m. Jan. 14 and Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis at 2 p.m. Jan. 16. These games can be listened to on 570 WKBN or watched on ESPN+.