Very familiar foe for YSU’s Barnes

YOUNGSTOWN – This year, John Barnes, the first-year coach for the Youngstown State University women, has branched out.

He spent the previous two seasons with Kevin Borseth at Michigan and, most recently, Green Bay – YSU’s opponent tonight at the Beeghly Center. Tipoff is at 7:05 p.m.

Barnes, who mentored Michigan Tech to the NCAA Elite Eight his last two seasons there, also spent time as an assistant at Wisconsin. Barnes took over the Michigan Tech program from Borseth.

This isn’t the first time the two have coached against one another. Michigan Tech played an exhibition game against Green Bay years ago.

Along the way, Barnes developed his style of offense.

Enter Borseth. The Green Bay coach taught Barnes a different style he now implements at YSU.

“He does a great job with motion offense; and I’m more of a set-oriented coach,” Barnes said. “I’ve implemented some of his motion offensive philosophies. The biggest thing is I was dead set against switching for the most part. I switch a lot more than I have in the past.”

The past has been, especially in the Horizon League, dominated by Green Bay. The Phoenix have finished first in the league every year since the 1998-99 season, only missing out on the NCAA Tournament three times in that span after not winning the postseason league title.

The Penguins are 1-29 against the often nationally-ranked Phoenix since the early 1990s, with their only win coming Feb. 19, 2005, in Green Bay, 60-56.

This year, things are quite different. Cleveland State (7-8, 2-0) and YSU (6-9, 2-0) are the only two teams undefeated in league play. Green Bay (8-6, 1-1) even lost games at their home, the Kress Center, something seemingly unfathomable for a program that hasn’t seen a losing season since the 1976-77 campaign.

That said, Barnes is taking nothing for granted even though the Phoenix doesn’t have many representatives from last year’s NCAA Tournament team.

“Green Bay’s tradition of being a conference champion and an NCAA Tournament performer year after year as compared to an up-and-coming program, those are the biggest differences,” he said. “We’re trying to establish a yearly winning program. They have been there for 15 to 20 years. That’s the biggest difference, learning how to play hard, compete at a really high level day in and day out is where we’re trying to get to.

“We’ve really come a long way this season; and we want to keep getting better every day.”

YSU’s 6-foot junior forward Heidi Schlegel has vaulted the Penguins to success in road wins at Valparaiso and UIC. Schlegel has averaged 23.5 points and 15 rebounds in the past two games. The post presence of her and 6-2 junior forward Latisha Walker, who averages 8.5 points and seven rebounds per contest, have dominated the Penguins’ post.

“We’ve tried to get the ball into her and Tish and that creates a lot of pressure on the defense when she has the ball near the basket,” Barnes said of Schlegel, who averages 20.2 points this season and shoots 81.3 percent from the line. “She’s done a great job going to the basket, getting fouled and going to the free-throw line. That opens up our perimeter shots, hence Liz (Hornberger) getting a lot of double figure scoring as of late.”

Hornberger, a 5-7 senior guard, has averaged 13.5 points in the past two games.

“Her attitude has always been good and she always works hard,” Schlegel said. “She’s starting to be more aggressive and not pass up shots. All the years we’ve been here, she’s passed up shots. I said, ‘Liz, just shoot the ball.’ When she’s open, she shoots it.”

For the Penguins, defense has been a key to their last two wins – holding Valparaiso and UIC to less than 60 points each.

“Defensively, we stepped up the last few games and played very well,” Barnes said. “Really, that’s where we want to establish ourselves, on that end first. The offense will come after that.”

It’ll be interesting to see which team establishes itself in tonight’s game in Youngstown – a meeting of two coaches that are quite familiar with one another.

“We know each other’s style really well,” Barnes said. “We obviously know everything he wants to do. I’m sure he’ll have a few wrinkles in there. Really, it’s going to come down to who plays the hardest and who had a better night that night.”