Resurgent Penguin women go against Milwaukee tonight

YOUNGSTOWN — Chelsea Olson dribbles up the court, looks for an open teammates, then sees her options are limited.

The 5-foot-10 freshman guard knows she has to take matters in her own hands.

The Horizon League has made her the freshman of the week the past four weeks, even national magazines have recognized her play.

So has Youngstown State women’s basketball coach John Barnes.

Olson is a rare commodity when it comes to a freshman basketball player. Her style is more of a seasoned senior than a mistake-prone freshman — unafraid of taking key shots. She’ll take over a game, uninhibited by the consequences.

Olson stays at a even keel, which has progressed her growth.

“She’s doing a lot of good things that a lot of freshmen don’t do or can’t do,” Barnes said.

It’s not only Olson, but this YSU women’s basketball team, which has won four straight and six of its last seven.

Prior to this stretch, the Penguins (12-13, 8-6 Horizon League) lost four straight — one was a buzzer-beater at Milwaukee (17-8, 8-5), YSU’s opponent tonight at 7 at the Beeghly Center.

With a win, the Penguins can vault into fifth place in the league standings and get closer to Wright State and Cleveland State — tied for third.

YSU has outrebounded four of its last five opponents, something it didn’t do last time in Milwaukee — resulting in the last-second winner for the Panthers.

“We’re doing a lot better on the boards, playing a lot more physical,” Barnes said.

Senior Kelley Wright has been a catalyst for that play, coming off the bench. She’s there for a key steal, tipped ball or taking a charge, some of the intangibles which have vaulted the Penguins to a 4-0 record in February.

“You can’t say enough about those little things,” Barnes said.

Wright vividly remembers that heartbreak in Milwaukee, something she’d rather not see happen again in Youngstown. It drives this revamped Penguins team to know how far they’ve come.

“We really want this game,” Wright said.

The Penguins took a damaging blow on Dec. 20 when Alison Smolinski, a vital player for YSU, broke her foot.

Barnes is hopeful she’ll practice this week, getting some minutes playing in a full-court set. From there, he’ll make his assessment.

“When she gets back, she’ll get 5 minutes, 10 minutes to start,” he said. “We’ll see how things go and progress from there.”

The last thing Wright wants is for her team’s progress to be all for naught. With Milwaukee and first-place Green Bay coming on Saturday afternoon, it’s not something Wright and her team take lightly.

The Phoenix has had a stranglehold on the Horizon League regular-season and tournament crowns since the league’s inception in the 2001-02 season. Green Bay has been a staple in the Associated Press Top 25 as well, seen as one of the best mid-major teams in the country. This year is no different as the Phoenix are ranked among the top 20 teams in the nation.

“We have to make sure this week we don’t take anything for granted,” Wright said. “We know we have to work for these next two wins. It’s going to be a really hard task. Hopefully our team is up for the task.”

So far this month, the Penguins have delivered.

jvargo@tribtoday.com

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