By Brian Yauger
Things are looking good for the Youngstown State University women’s basketball team, as the Penguins remain undefeated through three games and looking to be one of the stronger teams in the Horizon League along with Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis.
The most recent win came against the University of Pittsburgh in a 64-55 victory, a huge win against a Power 5 program.
“I thought the girls played really hard, and didn’t give up,” Penguins head coach John Barnes said after the victory against Pitt. “Pitt went on a little charge at the end, but we maintained it and held. Stepped up and made some huge shots, and it was a team effort to say the least. From the bench, to the girls on the court to the whole coaching staff. It was a hard-fought great win for us.”
Rebounding has played a key to the Penguins’ success, by outrebounding their opponents in each game thus far. Chelsea Olson leads the team, and the Horizon League, averaging 11.3 boards a game, with McKenah Peters pulling down an average of six a game.
“That [rebounding] was a big key coming into the game,” sophomore guard Peters said after the Loyola University Chicago game. “In the past we’ve been outrebounded by many teams, so just coming in and getting a body on everyone and hitting the boards was huge to outrebound them.”
After missing most of last season with a foot injury, Alison Smolinski is returning to the team on a hot streak. The senior guard is the team’s leading scorer and sixth in the conference in scoring, with 46 points total, largely in part to her 20-point game against Pitt.
Smolinski is currently shooting 13-for-30 for 43 percent from behind the arc and is shooting 13-for-32 for 40 percent overall. She leads the conference in 3-pointers made, and is fourth in 3-point percentage.
“It’s about getting my confidence back,” Smolinski said after the Loyola game. “My coaches always say ‘shooters shoot’ and once I hit one, they usually draw up a play for me so I just start feeling myself.”
Confidence has been another key for the Penguins, taking on tough opponents, facing adversity and still coming out on top.
“Our kids showed a lot of grit, a lot of toughness to find a way to manufacture some baskets and get some stops,” Barnes said after the Loyola game.
YSU is averaging 69 points per game so far, and the most they’ve scored is in the 74-point effort against Loyola. The Penguins are also leading the conference in free throw percentage, shooting 83 percent from the line.
The Penguins return home and face Carlow University (0-1) on Friday at 7 p.m. before heading to Kent State University to take on the Golden Flashes (0-2) on Tuesday at 5 p.m.
“It’s a big win, but it’s one out of 30,” Barnes said after the Pitt win. “We’re going to really enjoy it with our friends, family and fans then get ready for the next game. As a coach and as players, you enjoy it then you move on. Hopefully this builds our confidence and shows that we can play with anybody and we just want to keep moving forward and keep getting better.”