YOUNGSTOWN - Bob Boldon learned lessons back at Louisville High School that would shape a women's basketball program years later.
Boldon, a 1993 Louisville graduate, started his freshman year on a Leopards team that was a project to say the least. By the end of his career, the Leopards' program became one of the best in Stark County.
Now Boldon, who is in his third season as the Youngstown State women's basketball coach, is seeing an improvement in the Penguins' program. YSU is 5-1 this season - a far cry from the 0-30 program he inherited.
"It was similar," said Boldon, whose team plays Monday at IUPUI. "They were really bad my freshman year. That's probably why I got to play. It was a learning process going through that. I learned there's not a quick fix. It comes down to hard work and buying into your coaches, system and things of that sort. That was a precursor for me and something good to experience as a player."
Senior forward Brandi Brown, who is the team's leading scorer and has garnered multiple Horizon League honors during her YSU career, said she has seen her team excel.
"Every team goes through tough times, tough stretches," Brown said. "The team that can persevere and keep it together is going to win. Every day we try to be that team and try to make sure we're that team in practice so it can transfer over to the games."
For Boardman's Monica Touvelle, the rebuilding system is new to her. The YSU junior guard had been used to playing for a successful team under former Spartans girls coach Ron Moschella.
"I was never part of a rebuilding process, so it's new to me," Touvelle said. "It's exciting. The things we've done the past two years, we've tried to keep improving and improving. We don't want any setbacks."
There weren't setbacks to start this season as YSU won at Pittsburgh, Buffalo and Miami (Ohio), along with a home victory against Bryant.
The only setback was Tuesday at Northern Kentucky, losing in the final seconds. The Penguins bounced back to go 5-1 after blowing out Stony Brook on Friday.
"Everyone is like, 'Oh, you're undefeated over the holidays,' " Touvelle said. "I said, 'Yea, that's great.' All those teams, besides Pitt, that's a competitive game there, but those other teams we should have beat and did beat them. Northern Kentucky, we should've beat that team. We let that slip away from us. We didn't follow our principles. We need to put that in the past.
"I think it's important to keep playing. Every team has a loss here and there. Not every team is going to have that perfect record. I think we need to look ahead from here on out."
It was a mindset YSU took upon itself, Brown said.
"We didn't want to lose," she said.
The last time YSU had a winning season was 1999-2000 when the Penguins went 22-9 and ended their season with a first-round NCAA Tournament loss at Penn State.
"This program has a not-so-good history of winning in the past couple of years," Brown said. "I think just pulling together and becoming the team we say we want to be. Anybody can talk about how much they want to win. We want to make sure we're doing the work so we're getting out wins."
Boldon, whose teams have went 6-24 and 10-20 in his first two seasons, had a plan of how to rebuild YSU into a winner.
"We wanted to install some confidence, trust in each other and try to lay the groundwork of the way the things ought to be done, the right way of doing things," he said. "We chose to really focus our offense. You've seen our offensive numbers. We knew we weren't going to win a lot of games that way. It was easier to measure success because there were so many offensive numbers, turnovers, shooting percentage, number of shots taken, free throws, there's a lot of. We wanted to measure success in order to lead kids to gain confidence. It was easily measurable.
"This summer was all about getting better defensively. We knew we wouldn't make it in the top half of the conference unless we played better defense. We have a group that went from happy to play the game to happy to compete to has a burning desire to win. It's been a longer process than maybe we hoped. When we take the floor every night, we take the floor with a group of young ladies that expect to win the game."
And, Boldon wants YSU to work hard as well.
"He wants us to play like we're Division I athletes and play like we're privileged," Brown said. "So, I think he's really instilled that in us the idea that you have to work hard. Things are aren't given to you. You work hard for what you want."
Just as it wasn't easy for YSU to break its pattern of futility, it was the same for Boldon when he played at Louisville.
"(Former coach) Joe (Harold) was a no-nonsense type of coach," Boldon said. "There was no wiggle room. There was no gray area. There was a right way and there was a wrong way. I saw us, and I'm sure I was part of the problem, fighting that. The right way isn't always the easiest way. It's just the right way.
"Now I see that in our same players now. It's not the best way to do things. Now, we have group of young ladies who will do things the right way no matter how difficult that way is. That's what they want. They would be disappointed if we gave them anything but that."