Youngstown State women can have special year

Today is the day Bob Boldon finds out what his Youngstown State women’s basketball team can do in the Horizon League.

You might say next week’s matchup with league-leading Green Bay might be that game, but this one has importance as well.

There are those games that you should win. Take today’s game at Valparaiso, which starts at 2:35 p.m.

The Crusaders are 5-8, and coming into the first league game for both teams with a deceptive record. Valparaiso has beat Indiana at home and lost games to top 25 teams like Duke and Louisville. It hasn’t been an easy ride for the Crusaders.

Tabitha Gerardot leads Valparaiso with 12.5 points and 7.5 rebounds per game, the only player to average in double figures for the Crusaders.

Meanwhile, YSU (10-3) – the second-best team in the league – has an impressive resume itself with a marquee victory at Pittsburgh to open the season.

The Penguins, who have tied the school record for 10 non-conference wins, are led by the league’s best player in Brandi Brown. The senior forward averages 20.4 points and 11.2 rebounds per game.

Heidi Schlegel, who has returned from an injury earlier this season, has come off the bench in nine games to average 10.9 points per contest.

Meanwhile, freshman point guard Shar’Rae Davis, who could be in the running for Horizon League Newcomer of the Year, puts in less than 10 points and five assists per contest.

“It will be interesting,” Boldon said. “All this non-conference stuff is nice, but that’s over and we start over again this week. It will be interesting after a couple weeks of play to see where everybody stands.”

Where YSU stands is somewhere it hasn’t been since the 1999-2000 season. The Penguins won the Mid-Continent Conference over Valparaiso and advanced to the NCAA Tournament that season.

With league play looming, the Penguins’ practices have become more fiesty.

“I think the excitement level raises a bit – you spend all non-conference preparing for your conference games,” Boldon said. “We’ve been practicing and there’s a little more intensity. I think our kids are pretty excited for the opportunity.”

It’s an opportunity YSU has in front of them – to establish this program as one of the league’s best.

Since the 2000-01 season, the Penguins have finished no better than .500.

YSU was the gold standard in the Mid-Continent Conference. In the Horizon League, the Penguins are just another team – in most seasons were a bottom feeder, at best.

This year can be different. This year can be that special year.

Like the 1999-2000 team, the Penguins have that dominant player. Then, it was Brianne Kenneally. Now, it’s Brown.

Can today’s game be the first step en route to a Horizon League championship? Nothing is a given and there’s the little thing, when I mean little I’m being sarcastic and mean Green Bay – the best team in the Horizon League for the past 10 years.

It all starts today at Valparaiso.

“We did a good job with the first 13 games, but I’m excited to see where the next 16 take us,” Boldon said.