By Kyle Wills
After 237 days, the Youngstown State University women’s basketball team returned to the court to tip off its 2022-23 season, taking on Wofford College and Penn State University.
The Penguins defeated Wofford 81-72 and never trailed in the game, scoring in the first 14 seconds and maintaining the lead the entire contest.
Four of the five starters for Youngstown State scored in double figures with fifth-year senior Lilly Ritz leading the way with a 20-20 performance of 27 points and 20 rebounds. The aggressive defense by Wofford allowed Ritz to score 11 points from the free-throw line, being fouled 11 times out of the 46 total called.
Ritz said she wanted to come into the season being more physical and spent the offseason working on her placement on the court.
“I’ve tried to get a lot stronger. I’ve really tried to work on my positioning. Coach Chelsie [Butler] does a really good job correcting me when I’m not doing very good at practice and when my positioning isn’t right, so just getting in my position and being able to go up strong,” Ritz said.
Senior Paige Shy was second on the team with 16 points, shooting five-of-eight from the field and three-of-six from 3-point range. She also led the team with four assists and added four rebounds.
Junior Malia Magestro and sixth-year senior Megan Callahan were the other players in double figures, finishing with 12 and 11 points, respectively.
All three of the Penguins’ transfer students played valuable minutes with senior Shay-Lee Kirby leading the way, scoring four points and snagging three rebounds in 18 minutes. Fellow seniors Dena Jarrells and Emily Saunders also played well, with Jarrells scoring five points in 13 minutes and Saunders scoring six points, along with blocking two shots.
Shy said the team has additional depth on the bench from a season ago and her teammates stepped up when the team was in foul trouble.
“Our bench is so deep this year. They did a great job being locked in from the bench, and when they got called to go in, did a great job. There was no fall off, nothing. They really stepped up too and picked up when someone got a foul,” Shy said.
The Penguins had a strong defense in the first half, holding the Terriers to 24 points on 20.7% shooting. After making 43.2% from the field after two quarters, the women entered halftime with a 37-24 lead.
Both teams were evenly matched in the third quarter and went into the fourth with the score 59-48, but Wofford managed to claw back in the last period to make the score 73-72 with just under two minutes left. Youngstown State scored their final eight points off free throws where the score ended 81-72.
Head coach John Barnes said the team came out slow to start the second half, struggling to maintain possession.
“I felt pretty good about our disposition and [execution], for the most part. I just think the part right after halftime was the biggest part where I felt like we had a little bit of a panic. We let one turnover go to two, go to three, go to four-out-of-five possessions and that cost us a double-digit lead and I hope we can learn from that,” Barnes said.
Despite the rough second half, Barnes said the key part of the team’s execution was defense.
“Down the stretch, we did a really good job defensively. [Wofford called] a timeout to advance it, [we] boxed out and got the rebound, and that’s how we finished it off,” Barnes said.
The women took a week off before taking on a Big Ten opponent in Penn State on the road Nov. 15, losing to the Nittany Lions 77-63.
Shy had another great performance offensively, scoring 19 points on 7-of-13 shooting and 5-for-9 from behind the 3-point arc. Ritz followed behind with 12 points, being 6-of-8 from the field, and recorded six rebounds and four steals, defensively.
Both teams struggled offensively at the start with Penguins edging the Nittany Lions to 13-12 after the first quarter. However, they picked it up in the second with Penn State outscoring the Penguins 21-19 in the second to take the lead into halftime.
After going on a 9-2 run to start the third, Youngstown State allowed Penn State to go on a 21-9 run after committing four turnovers to end the quarter. The Nittany Lions sealed the game in the fourth after forcing the Penguins to turn the ball over eight times to outscore them 21-13 in the period.
The women’s basketball team will look to get back in the winning column Nov. 18 as it travels to the University of Akron to battle the Zips at 7 p.m. The game can be listened to on 570 WKBN or watched on ESPN3.