Penguins open season against Panthers

YOUNGSTOWN — The trip down I-76 East isn’t that uncommon for the Youngstown State University women’s basketball team.

The route eventually leads to Pittsburgh and the Petersen Events Center on the campus of the University of Pittsburgh, where the two teams have played four times this decade.

The Panthers won three of four contests, with the Penguins winning in 2012, the same year YSU won 23 games and went to the second-round of the WNIT.

YSU women’s coach John Barnes said it’s exciting for the Penguins, who were 9-21 in a 2016-17 season decimated by injuries, to begin the 2017-18 season with an ACC team.

“Having the mindset we’re going to start off with a quality program increases our sense of urgency to be ready for the season,” he said.

YSU opens the home part of the season against a much-improved Kent State team that won the Mid-American Conference East Division title last season. The Golden Flashes, which last played YSU during the 2015-16 season, were cellar-dwellers the previous couple of seasons. KSU comes to the Beeghly Center on Nov. 14.

After playing at former Horizon League and current Missouri Valley Conference opponent Loyola (Chicago) on Nov. 18 and hosting Ohio Valley on Nov. 20, the Penguins welcome in defending Patriot League Champions Bucknell on Nov. 24. The Penguins are 5-0 all time at home against the Bison and won the last two against Bucknell.

The Penguins face another defending league champion in Robert Morris (Nov. 29), which won the Northeastern Athletic Conference title in the 2016-17 season.

The Colonials, who are 2-7 against YSU in Moon Township (Pa.), have lost the last two games to the Penguins.

That starts a four-game road trip where YSU is at American (Dec. 2), Akron (Dec. 5) and St. Francis (Pa.) (Dec. 9).

Following finals, the Penguins finish the non-conference portion with Northern Arizona (Dec. 16) and Penn State-Beaver (Dec. 20).

This is a rare trip for Northern Arizona to Ohio, which hosted YSU last season.

“Northern Arizona will be very exciting for the fans because they don’t get to see teams that often come into the Beeghly Center from out west,” Barnes said. “They’re a big, athletic team that is fast. It’ll be an up-tempo game, and it’ll be exciting.”

YSU has five home games before 2018.

“We have the second-highest attendance in the conference and great support from the community at our games,” Barnes said. “Any time you can get into a good environment with a lot of fans cheering for you, it helps out the team.”

This schedule should help ready YSU for the Horizon League, which begins around the beginning of 2018.

“We know how tough our league is,” Barnes said. “You have to have a good non-conference schedule to prepare yourself. Playing teams like Pitt, Bucknell and Robert Morris, which have won conference championships, they will prepare us for the Horizon League.”