By Dylan Lux
A loss in the first round of the 2022-23 Horizon League tournament left the Youngstown State University women’s basketball team watching from the sidelines.
A new leaf has been turned, and the Penguins started their new campaign Nov. 8, when they took on Xavier University inside the Beeghly Center.
The Musketeers came off a winless record in the Big East Conference last season, and they are looking to add some wins with the addition of first-year head coach Billi Chambers.
With the announcement of head coach John Barnes’ leave of absence, the YSU women’s team is being coached by acting head coach John Nicolais.
Fifth-year forward Emily Saunders made her first career start against Xavier after the departure of All-Horizon League center Lilly Ritz.
Through one half of play, the Penguins held a 25-18 lead over the Musketeers after burying 10 field goals and multiple 3-pointers.
At the final buzzer, YSU defeated Xavier 55-41 for its first win of the new season.
Saunders finished with a game-high 20 points, 14 rebounds and two blocks. She credited her team finding her in the right positions for her new career high.
“My teammates were seeing me, and I feel like that’s the most important thing,” Saunders said. “We really emphasize getting the ball in the post, and I thought they did a tremendous job tonight.”
Senior guard Malia Magestro also ended the game in double digits, with 14 points to go along with 3 steals and 2 assists.
The Penguins shot 41.5% from the field and 30% from beyond the arc. The Penguins also had 12 second-chance points and 24 points off turnovers to help secure the victory.
The team finished the game with 21 turnovers. Nicolais said this would be a point of emphasis for the team and something it hopes to correct going forward.
“We discussed that in the locker room for sure … it really wasn’t forced turnovers, it was more stuff we were doing to ourselves,” Nicolais said. “That part was a little bit frustrating.”
The next opponent for Youngstown State was Slippery Rock University, a Division II program that plays in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference.
After a 43-point first half, the Penguins had a sizable lead going into the locker room, up by 27 over SRU, while shooting 71.4% as a unit.
The Penguins held onto the lead for the rest of the contest as they went on to win 78-32.
Three ‘Guins scored in double figures in the game — Saunders, junior Haley Thierry and fifth-year senior Dena Jarrells. Jarrells also led the game in assists with five.
As a whole, the team’s field goal percentage was 57.8% after draining six threes and 26 shots in total.
Eleven women saw playing time against Slippery Rock, which was all part of the game plan, according to Nicolais.
“It was nice to get the other kids off the bench, and come in and provide a spark and get them comfortable,” Nicolais said. “We were trying to experiment a little bit out there.”
The Penguins will return to the court Nov. 16 to round out their three-game home stretch to open the season.