By Nathanael Hawthorne
The Youngstown State University women’s basketball team is back at Beeghly Center after a five-game stretch on the road.
The team picked up back-to-back wins to close out the road trip, beating Oakland University 79-74 and the University of Detroit Mercy 62-47. With those two wins, the team improves to 11-7 on the year and 4-3 in the Horizon League.
“That was a huge road swing for us,” Penguins coach John Barnes said. “We’ve got a lot of freshmen, a lot of young players playing a ton of minutes. Road swings are hard enough for a veteran group, but to have a young group be able to do that gives us a lot of confidence.”
Young players are getting more playing time because of the amount of injured starters. With at least four players sidelined due to injury, Barnes looked to the younger players to step up to the spotlight.
Freshman Jen Wendler has stepped up in a significant way. In the wins against Oakland and Detroit Mercy, she posted 22 points, 15 rebounds and shot 100% from the free-throw line, going nine-for-nine. Among other things, that performance led to Horizon League Freshman of the Week honors.
“She was a player we were talking about redshirting possibly because she needed that extra time to get used to the speed of the game and the size of the players,” Barnes said. “I think everyone can see how she’s growing and getting better and for her to win Freshman of the Week was a great honor for her.”
Barnes is also relying on the leadership of junior Chelsea Olson. To round out the road trip, Olson picked up 29 points, 21 rebounds and went 3-6 from 3-point range, securing Horizon League Player of the Week honors.
Barnes said with the injuries on the team, Olson has been put in a situation she’s not used to, but she’s lived up to expectations.
“She handled it great,” Barnes said. “She stepped up her scoring, she stepped up her rebounding and lifted her game, which obviously helped us win.”
The Penguins have also gained some help elsewhere. In the game against Oakland, junior Ny’Dajah Jackson dropped a season- and career-high 23 points, and freshman Gabby Lupardus put up 18 points. Against Detroit Mercy, freshman Quinece Hatcher scored 15 points.
Coming up, the Penguins will square off against the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay on Jan. 24 and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee on Jan. 26 in a two-game homestand.
Barnes said both games will be difficult, but his priority lies with Green Bay.
“It’s going to be a difficult game, but we somehow have to find a way to rise to the occasion,” he said. “With Milwaukee. . . It’s going to be a tough battle and it’s normally close. You just got to find a way to make plays at the end, but definitely protect your home court.”
Tipoff against Green Bay is scheduled for 7 p.m. and tipoff against Milwaukee will be at 1 p.m.