YSU women determined to remain a winner

YOUNGSTOWN – Right Said Fred’s “I’m Too Sexy.” Sir Mix-a-Lot’s “Baby Got Back.” House of Pain’s “Jump Around.”

All one-hit wonders.

First-year YSU women’s basketball coach John Barnes doesn’t want last year’s 23-10 epiphany to be as fleeting as those aforementioned songs. He’d rather have hit album after hit album – rising the charts of the Horizon League.

Barnes, who spent last season as an associate head coach at Green Bay, the league’s premier team for the past couple of decades, is ready to change the Penguins’ outlook.

“Defensively, they pretty much switched everything last year,” he said. “We’re working on staying with your person. That’s a big change. It’s a lot easier to go from staying man-to-man with no switching and going into switching later. I’m trying to nail in all the fundamentals of not switching on defense.

“Offensively, they ran a five-out system where they shot a ton of 3s. We’ve been working from day one offensively to have a post presence, pound the ball inside, go inside out. That’s a big change from passing into the post. That’s an art. That takes practice and work. We’ve been working things as simple as making a good pass into the post with pressure on them.”

Last year’s offense was predicated on Brandi Brown, the 2012-13 Horizon League Player of the Year. Her offensive output and presence on the boards made her YSU’s go-to player, averaging 20 points and 11 rebounds a game. None of the returning players eclipsed 10 points per game or came close to 11 boards a contest.

“I was worried what we were going to do after the season without Brandi Brown, who basically was our offense last year,” YSU senior guard Liz Hornberger said.

Hornberger (5-foot-7), Shar’Rae Davis (5-8 sophomore guard), Karen Flagg (6-0 senior forward) and Melissa Thompson (5-8 senior guard), along with Heidi Schlegel (6-0 junior forward) and Monica Touvelle (5-8 senior guard) will lead this team.

“We’re not trying to replace Brandi,” said Barnes, whose team scrimmages Saturday at Niagara. “We’re trying to have all of our players step up and do a little bit more of the scoring, do a little bit more of the rebounding and help out more defensively. Collectively, I think they’re doing a good job of filling that gap.”

Defense is the one thing YSU wants to be known for this year.

“We were a good defense last year,” Hornberger said. “In the first three weeks, we were all defense. We didn’t work on offense at all. The first day we did offense, no one scored. We were like, ‘Oh my God, our offense is terrible.’ I think our defense is that much better already.”

It’ll take some adjusting for players like Touvelle, a Boardman High School graduate.

“I hate to say it, but I think switching is easier,” she said. “We have to fight through and get through and it’s a lot more physical. It’s been a challenge. And, just being mentally tough. I know it’s taken us to another level with coach Barnes compared to last year.”

Barnes is happy to see the players, especially the upperclassmen, being willing to make progress under his system for a team that had zero wins in the 2009-10 season.

“I think their experience and going from the bottom of Division I to now a 23-win team,” Barnes said. “That experience and willingness to work and learn to get better is very exciting to me. I see it in practice every day. It’s great.”

YSU only had six wins in the 2010-11 season.

“That’s why our senior class is so strong because we’ve been through all that stuff before,” Hornberger said.

That’s why YSU is bound and determined to be consistent winner, not a one-hit wonder.