Penguins lose veteran guard to injury

YOUNGSTOWN — Youngstown State had one of the most experienced women’s basketball backcourts in the Horizon League last season with juniors Nikki Arbanas and Indiya Benjamin.

The two have been starting since their freshman seasons and led the Penguins to the semifinals of the Women’s Basketball Invitational a season ago.

Benjamin was first on the team in assists and second in 3-point field-goal percentage last season, while Arbanas had a high of 53 3s in Horizon League play.

That combination is not going to happen when the 2016-17 season starts because Arbanas is out for the season with a right knee injury. The injury happened during a drill in an Oct. 3 practice — the first one this season.

Arbanas is slated to have surgery in the near future and will have two years of eligibility remaining.

She is not available to talk until after her surgery.

“Nikki is a huge part of our team both on and off the court, and we will certainly miss her this season,” YSU coach John Barnes said in a news release. “Her on-court importance is obvious with her setting our school record for 3-pointers last season, and she contributes just as much — if not more — as a team leader.

“I’m sure that she will cheer on her teammates and help us as best she can during her recovery. My staff and the entire YSU basketball family wish her a speedy recovery, and we will look forward to her being back to full strength for 2017-18.”

Arbanas, who is from nearby Hickory High School in Hermitage, Pennsylvania, averaged 11.3 points, was 89 of 251 from 3-point range and shot a team-best 42 of 49 from the foul line.

Benjamin averaged 9.9 points per game, while Lordstown native and YSU junior forward Sarah Cash led the Penguins with 14.1 points and 7.1 rebounds.

“Our program prides itself on mental toughness and the ability to overcome adversity, and this will certainly be a test for us,” Barnes said. “As we prepare for this season, we will spend the next several weeks looking for players to step up as leaders both on and off the court.

“We’ve continued to add depth to our program through the recruiting process, which will hopefully allow us to still accomplish the lofty goals we have for 2016-17.”