Penguin women belong on top

YOUNGSTOWN — It’s Wednesday morning and I’m driving down Schenley Road near Youngstown, heading to a Wednesday morning mass.

It’s Ash Wednesday and I’m trying to think of what to give up for the 40-day Lenten season. Hamburger, hot dog and sub buns. That’s my plan. Hopefully it makes a difference.

The cup of dark-roasted coffee I had from my single-serve coffee maker was strong as ever. I could even see some coffee grounds in the remnants of that surge of java now running through my body.

It got me through the rest of the morning as I went to see my wife, Michele, conduct the school’s choir, and my daughter, Alexa, perform a reading with three other classmates, during the service. Both of them were excellent. I’m not surprised.

On the way there, I had a thought: We Belong Together, a statement which came out of this past summer’s Evangelical Lutheran Church in America youth convention, which my son, Erik, attended.

Our family is part of the Zion Lutheran Church (Cornersburg) membership. Our pastor, Duane Jesse, says “You Belong Here” every Sunday as the congregation replies, “We Belong Together.”

I thought about that night’s Youngstown State University women’s basketball game. My mind and thought process is a mystery, how I go from one topic to the next. The power of transition, my friends. Michele is doing a face palm while reading this.

The Penguins (22-8) beat Milwaukee, 64-58, Wednesday night to advance to the Horizon League semifinals at Little Caesars Arena in Detroit for the second straight season. They took the same path as last season, beat Milwaukee in a quarterfinal and play Green Bay in a semifinal.

The only change is this YSU team is much different than a year ago. The numbers have shrunk to nine active players on the roster. The Penguins normally run with a lineup of seven, which most teams do.

YSU is 16-1 at the Beeghly Center. There are likely WBI or WNIT games in the Penguins’ future and more home games this month, but this YSU team is not going to settle for the consolation prize any longer.

The thought process in the past was to play second-seeded Green Bay and lose because the Phoenix is a dominant program. Green Bay coach Kevin Borseth is a svengali and YSU cannot overcome Green Bay’s powerful presence in the postseason or even regular season. Not true anymore.

The third-seeded Penguins dominated Green Bay on Feb. 15 in Youngstown, coming through with a 22-10 performance in the third quarter.

This is a different year for the Penguins, who are 10-0 against Horizon League teams at home, but are 4-5 away from Youngstown. Ah, there’s is YSU’s stumbling block. This team cannot win away from home. Not an excuse.

You have the Horizon League’s sixth person of the year in 6-foot-3 junior Mary Dunn, also a first-team all-league selection. There’s 6-1 redshirt senior and Lordstown native Sarah Cash, and 5-9 sophomore Chelsea Olson, both second-team picks. Senior Alison Smolinski is the program’s all-time leader in 3-pointers and holds the record for most in a season in the Horizon League.

McKenah Peters is one of the best defenders in this league, along with Amara Chikwe. Melinda Trimmer has come into her own as a point guard, showing why YSU recruited her out of West Branch High School.

There are no excuses why this YSU team cannot hang the first Horizon League Championship banner from the rafters of the Beeghly Center. It would be the first NCAA Tournament appearance for the Penguins since the 1999-2000 season, and fourth in school history.

YSU belongs here. Hopefully this group of Penguins has the confidence to say that they belong together, hoisting a championship trophy on Tuesday afternoon inside Little Caesars Arena in Detroit.

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