Women get started at Pitt tonight

YOUNGSTOWN — There was the basketball sitting on the floor at various places on the floor.

Several girls watched and cheered as they fought as if on the mat wrestling, using every ounce of expendable energy.

That was the summer. This is now. Boxing out. Fighting for position. This Youngstown State women’s basketball competes. No 9-21 season. No season-ending injuries.

Depth, plenty of it. It’s the most John Barnes has seen in his five years as YSU coach.

It’s what the Penguins are taking into tonight’s opener against Pittsburgh at the Petersen Events Center. Tipoff is 7 p.m.

Sure it’s an Atlantic Coast Conference team, a bigger conference with more talented teams. That said, this YSU team isn’t intimidated by a bigger, longer team.

“Coach Barnes said, ‘We’re not going to play competitive. We’re going to play to win,’ “ junior guard Alison Smolinski (North Royalton) said.

Redshirt juniors Nikki Arbanas (Hermitage, Pa.) and Sarah Cash (Lordstown) are back after season-ending injuries, but those two aren’t the only ones vital to this Penguin surge.

There’s a handful of newcomers, transfers and freshmen on this roster.

Chelsea Olson (5-10, Fr., Westby, Wis.), Josie Fisher (5-7, Jr., Fort Wayne, Ind.), Anne Secrest (6-0, Fr., Claypool, Ind.) are some of the new faces ready to assist the returning bunch — including Horizon League Freshman of the Year, sophomore Mary Dunn (6-3, Washington, Pa.).

Barnes said the freshmen have picked up the team’s offensive and defensive concepts well.

The Penguins had a recent scrimmage against Davis and Elkins in which they trailed at one point, surged ahead by double figures, but didn’t put the NCAA Division II team away.

“We have to have the killer instinct,” Barnes said.

Eventually, this YSU team will get there. Competition, just like the ones they’ve had during the summer and early fall, will pay off for this Penguins team.

“It’s really a competitive atmosphere,” Barnes said. “Although they’re competing for minutes and starting positions, the bottom line is to win games.

“It’s nice to have that much competition on the team this year.”