By Michael Evanko
Horizon League Champions is a title the Youngstown State University women’s basketball program hasn’t held in over a decade. This season things are looking up for the Penguins who are currently sitting at 18-6 and 10-3 in conference play. The leader of this rising team is senior guard Alison Smolinski.
“I’m not very good at answering questions,” she said.
Not many basketball players at this level are used to being a key piece to a winning team. She handled it like a pro.
Smolinski, is a 5-foot 9-inch guard originally from North Royalton, Ohio, where she has been playing basketball since she was a little girl.
“My older brother played basketball and I kinda looked up to him,” Smolinski said. “He would always shoot with my dad in the driveway in the backyard and I would always shoot around with them. My family is very athletic, both my mom and dad played basketball.”
Smolinski is the one of four Penguins averaging over 10 points per game and is leading in three-pointers made with 80, 34 more than the next closest Chelsea Olson. She is looking to surpass her personal record of single season three-pointers of 85.
“I think us having a smaller group of girls, our coaches give us a lot of confidence and just tell us to shoot the ball,” Smolinski said. “We have a lot of plays for our guards that get us open.”
Injuries have crept their way into her basketball career, allowing her to play in only 16 games as a junior.
“You never think as an athlete … you will get hurt and then it happens, and you think, ‘Now what?’ It was tough, I just focused on wanting to come back better,” Smolinski said.
“Well she’s gained a lot of confidence,” Penguins coach John Barnes said. “Every year she gets tougher. She garners more attention, which she has to deal with on the court. She’s really doing a great job at not letting teams that are doubling, grabbing, holding her, affecting her mentally.”
During her junior year, the Penguins finished their season at 16-16, with Smolinski playing in only 16 games.
Barnes said having Smolinski on the team is integral.
“I mean obviously, she can really shoot the basketball,” Barnes said. “Her defensive side has grown a lot over the past few years. She’s a leader for us. Without her I don’t think we’re close to having this close of a record. As a senior she’s taken it upon herself to take a big step forward to help this team win more games.”
With the Penguins stellar season nearing a hopeful Horizon League championship run, Smolinski’s goals are not far off from Barnes’.
“To win a Horizon League championship, that’s our goal,” Smolinski said.
The goal every year is a Horizon League championship, but to be able to send off the seniors with a successful last season is the main thing. We want to give the community, the school, the seniors a great team to watch, a team that leaves it all out on the court,” Barnes said.