YSU women return key parts for 2017-18

YOUNGSTOWN — Indiya Benjamin felt uneasy.

When you have a certain comfort level and then it goes away, it feels like your life becomes unhinged — to an extent.

That was last year when injuries decimated Youngstown State women’s basketball team.

It led to coach John Barnes making that long walk many times past the bench to the water cooler on the baseline. Hint, it means the YSU coach is frustrated.

There were not too many reasons for the Penguins to be ecstatic last season. Three starters were out with injuries and plenty of younger players saw time on the floor much sooner than expected.

Benjamin was without her backcourt mate, redshirt junior Nikki Arbanas.

Sarah Cash, a Lordstown native, was a mainstay in the post. She wasn’t there last year either. The season eventually ended with a 9-21 record.

Pressure mounted, but the release valve could come this season. It starts Friday at Pittsburgh, starting at 7 p.m.

The pass-first point guard Benjamin can once again seek Arbanas on the wing or Cash in the post.

“When we were able to play together we did big things,” Benjamin said of Cash and Arbanas. “It was all around good chemistry and a good game to play. I’m happy everybody’s happy and back to play.”

Barnes saw Arbanas’ knee hold out during a recent scrimmage against Duquesne. Cash scored six points in 7 minutes.

Defense is what was lacking last year. The Penguins gave up almost 15 points more than they had when they notched 20-plus victories in the previous season.

It starts with protecting the interior.

“Now we’re trying to be in more gaps so we can help on drives to protect the paint more than we have in the past,” Cash said.

Cash and Arbanas return as the team’s top two defenders. Freshman Anne Secrest, a 6-foot forward, adds to the interior game.

“Explosive, strong player that defends well,” Barnes said. “That’s her strength, defense and rebounding.”

Mary Dunn, a 6-3 sophomore, was the Horizon League Freshman of the Year. She returns with some great advice from Cash she’s had all along the way.

“I was extremely proud of what Mary did last year and everything she did,” Cash said. “She always asks me questions about what she should be doing. When I tell her, she actually applies them to what she’s doing.

“I’m excited about this year. We can actually play together.”