By Joseph Frattaroli
The Youngstown State University women’s basketball team pulled a victory against the University of Akron for its first home game of the season with a score of 57-55 at Beeghly Center. The team was cheered to victory by fans and a fanatic student section, breaking the 631-day streak of its absence.
Many of the women on the team have not experienced the crowds as seen on Monday because of the COVID-19 pandemic. As one of the team’s oldest members, junior Mady Aulbach described the experience.
“Me, Chelsea [Olson], Jen [Wendler] and of course Gabby [Lupardus] are some of the only people who experienced our awesome fanbase,” Aulbach said. “Even the girl in Akron said, ‘Your fans were awesome — they really showed out for you.’”
The team was led by sophomore Malia Magestro scoring 16 points, beating her previous career-high of 13. Magestro was energized by the return of fans to the court after the extended absence
“Last year, we never had any fans. It was like almost playing scrimmages. The atmosphere was amazing here tonight, so I think all of us were definitely a little nervous, which is normal. We shook those nerves off at halftime and came out and played a whole different game,” Magestro said.
Aulbach also shared the same nervous feeling as Magestro, but she pulled it together in the second half.
“At the beginning, it was nerve-wracking because we are a new team, and I think there’s a little pressure behind the fact that we’re all new,” Aulbach said. “It’s just so much more fun when the fans are there because we feed off their energy.”
Head coach John Barnes thoroughly enjoyed and welcomed the fans’ charisma as a guiding hand to victory.
“What a great crowd, [and a] great student section,” Barnes said. “A lot of fans from a lot of different places, really loud and really into it. It felt like they were just willing our team to win.”
A great deal of improvement was seen in the second half compared to the first. The team let up only five turnovers in the second half, contrasting 10 in the first. Barnes said the game was an impressive night for the defense, allowing room for a less offensive night.
“We held them to 22% from the field and 19% from 3, so that’s a heck of a defensive night. You’re not going to be lights-out every night shooting the basketball,” Barnes said. “On those nights you’re not shooting it really well, how are you going to get the win? That’s toughness and physical play.”
The Penguins will return for their next home game against Long Island University at 1 p.m. Friday, Nov. 26 at Beeghly Center.