By Marc Weems
The Youngstown State University women’s basketball team is having a February to remember. With just one loss against the 19th-ranked University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, the Penguins (14-14, 10-7 Horizon League) have won six of their last seven games and six straight on the road.
YSU has fully clinched at least the sixth seed in the Horizon League tournament and could get up as high as the third seed with a win over Cleveland State University (19-9, 11-6 HL) on Saturday.
“The team has really been playing hard and focused. They’ve really been giving everything they have and it’s showing on the court,” YSU head coach John Barnes said. “We were able to put some wins together and put us in a good position. We’ve been fighting to get that first-round bye, which we were able to obtain. Now, we are just looking to finish strong for the seniors.”
YSU has three seniors on the team with all-time assists leader Indiya Benjamin, Morgan Olson and Kelley Wright.
Now YSU has to focus on CSU and trying to secure a much better seed in tournament. Of course, getting a better seed is also based on both Wright State University and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee losing on Saturday as well.
“That was a tough stretch there. That was arguably the toughest stretch besides the Green Bay-Milwaukee-Wright State trip. For the team to get two of three of those, I thought the players had to dig deep,” Barnes said.
Barnes said that the team didn’t even celebrate after beating Northern Kentucky University because of how exhausted the team was after the road trip it had been on.
When YSU traveled to Cleveland to face the Vikings back on Jan. 20, the Penguins got the win, 66-52. CSU did play that game without its best scorer, Ashanti Abshaw. She’s the second-best scorer in the league at 19.3 points per game on 42 percent.
In that game, freshman Chelsea Olson dropped 26 points on 8 of 14 shooting including three made 3-pointers. She also grabbed eight rebounds in the winning effort.
YSU forward Sarah Cash put up 16 points, six rebounds and two blocks in that game.
“We knew we needed that win against NKU to clinch a quarterfinal spot. We are just being more physical and rebounding much better,” Cash said. “We’re working harder than I think we were at the beginning of the year. We have more confidence going into games now.”
Compared to where this team was before the month started, not many would have predicted that the team could be in such a good position.
“It takes a lot of mental toughness. We talk about [it] every day before practice and before games,” Cash said. “We have to be mentally tough to be able to play well and hold off teams as well.”
The Penguins got the win over NKU with a continued rebounding effort that has helped them get much better all around. YSU grabbed 37 rebounds to NKU’s 28. YSU also hit nine 3-pointers to the Norse’s four.
“From when we came in to now, everyone has grown as a person and as a basketball player. I know we are going to miss Indiya a lot because she has been our point guard every game she has been here,” Cash said about the seniors playing their last game at the Beeghley Center. “Kelley and Morgan have worked really hard and made our team a lot better.”
YSU tips off with CSU on Saturday at 4:15 p.m. at the Beeghley Center.