Women’s basketball conference champs for 1st time since since 1998-99

By Kyle Wills

After an offseason where the transfer portal created uncertainty with nine newcomers, the Youngstown State University women’s basketball team finished the regular season on top of the conference, becoming the regular season Horizon League Champions for the first time in program history.

In a battle of the two best in the Horizon League on Feb. 24, the women fell to Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis 68-45. 

Junior Jen Wendler led the team with 11 points off 5-of-7 shooting from the bench. That would be one of the only bright spots as the offense struggled in the game, shooting only 31% from the field. The Penguins’ inconsistencies started out of the gate as they were only able to score 3 points in the first quarter.  

Defensively, Youngstown State couldn’t do much to stop the Jaguars as IUPUI shot over 48% from the floor, including 50% beyond the arc.

In the regular season finale Feb. 26, the women took on the University of Illinois Chicago,  defeating the Flames 61-54. Senior Lilly Ritz led the way for the Penguins with 23 points and 8 rebounds, while sophomore Malia Magestro and junior Paige Shy followed behind with 18 and 10 points.

In an offensive turnaround, Youngstown State shot over 45% overall, including a 16-for-20 performance from the free-throw line.

On the defensive side, the team was able to force 15 turnovers and allow only two second chance points.

Horizon League honors were released Monday, Feb. 28, recognizing three players and the head coach. Ritz was recognized as All-Horizon League First Team, senior Chelsea Olson earned Second Team, and junior Mady Aulbach, along with Ritz, made All-Defensive Team. 

Lilly Ritz took home two Horizon League honors after being named First Team and All-Defensive Team. Photo by Kyle Wills / The Jambar

Head coach John Barnes thought his players’ accolades were well deserved after all the hard work they contributed.

“I’m really happy for Lilly, Chelsea and Mady. Mady Aulbach has done so much defensively and sometimes behind the scenes, if you have a bunch of numbers, you don’t get the recognition. The coaches really saw her worth,” Barnes said.

He was also honored with this year’s Horizon League Coach of the Year. 

The women earned a first-round bye and second seed in the Keeps Horizon League Women’s Basketball Championship, and they will next play in the quarterfinal game against Oakland University at the Beeghly Center at 7 p.m. tonight. 

Barnes said the outcome will come down to who can execute more after playing these teams multiple times during the season.

“We’re focused on doing the little detailed work right now. We’re not overdoing it in terms of practicing. We played all these teams at least twice, so we have a good idea of what they’re doing,” Barnes said.