By Marc Weems
After an off-season with many changes and players finally getting healthy, the Youngstown State University women’s basketball team is ready to play some meaningful games.
YSU’s first task is against the University of Pittsburgh on Nov. 10.
Last year, YSU lost to Pitt 63-50 as Alison Smolinksi led the Penguins with 14 points and three rebounds.
“I think practice is much more competitive now. Coach can throw anyone in there. I think he has confidence in any of us. That starts with the freshmen coming in because they’ve really grown to know what we are doing,” Smolinski said.
Last year, Smolinski led the team with 85 three-pointers made and 12.5 points per game.
With just one senior on its roster, Pitt will need to use its youth movement to overcome YSU’s top heavy team.
“Pitt is very athletic, long and talented. They are an ACC team for a reason. Last year, we went into that game and got there and were a little overwhelmed with the situation. I feel that having been through that last year, we played them pretty tough,” YSU Head Coach John Barnes said about Pitt. “Obviously, it’s going to be a challenge. The team is ready to compete for real.”
In YSU’s last exhibition of the offseason, the Penguins defeated Davis & Elkins 73-55 in its last tune-up of the season before the regular season.
“I think that we overcame some adversity on Saturday. If you don’t come out and be ready to play, you’re gonna get beat. We did a solid job early. Davis & Elkins made some good shots and got in a rhythm. We flipped that and were up eight,” Barnes said. “All of that’s good learning experience for us. We gotta have that killer instinct.”
YSU will be rolling out a much different lineup than last season with Smolinski, Nikki Arbanas, Indiya Benjamin, Kelley Wright and freshman Anne Secrest as starters.
“I think this game is going to be tough but it’s a good challenge for us,” Smolinski said. “We are going to focus on ourselves and play our hardest and see what happens. Coach Barnes said that we are not going there to be competitive, we are going there to win.”
For YSU, defense will be the key for the Pitt game and the entire season. YSU gave up 74.3 points per game and lost by nearly seven points per game last year. The Penguins were also outrebounded by nearly eight in each game and will need to correct that to win games this year.
“We talked about being really tough and stingy on the defensive side. I don’t think they scored for the first five or six minutes of the second half,” Barnes said. “We ran away from them from then on.”
Barnes said that he feels very fortunate on the women’s side because fans have always supported him since day one.
“I think even through the tough years before I was here, the fans continue to support. I think we are second highest in attendance in the Horizon League,” Barnes said. “With that being said, Coach Calhoun has brought a ton of energy. He’s changed the style for them. It’s very exciting and there is definitely an extra buzz this year.”
YSU has three seniors, three juniors and two redshirt juniors on the roster. Barnes believes this is the deepest roster he has had in his five years here.
“The nice thing is that there are so many girls so the practices are super competitive and the games will be too. If someone isn’t playing well, someone is right behind them to take their minutes,” Barnes said.
YSU faces Pitt on Nov. 10 at 7 p.m.