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YSU seeks healthy 2020-21 season

Correspondent file photo / Robert Hayes — Youngstown State’s McKenah Peters drives to the basket earlier this season. Peters and the Penguins will be looking to stay healthier next year after finishing 13-17 during an injury-plagued campaign this season.

YOUNGSTOWN — The record was 13-17 and 6-12 in Horizon League play after the 2019-20 season, not an ideal mark for the Youngstown State University women’s basketball team.

This year’s Penguins team lost in the first round of the Horizon League Tournament March 3 at Cleveland State University.

It was a season dominated by injuries with plenty to document.

The team’s lone senior Mary Dunn, a 6-foot-3 forward, was out after being injured after scoring 30 points in the team’s fourth game of the season. She averaged more than 17 points after four games. Her right meniscus gave way during the final moments of that come-from-behind win against Eastern Michigan. There was hope she would return. It soon faded into the early part of 2020.

Dunn has yet to file the paperwork on her medical redshirt, but is in the process of getting herself ready for the 2020-21 season.

Correspondent file photo / Robert Hayes — Chelsea Olson was a bright spot for the Penguins during their injury-riddled season and should be a key player again next season as a senior.

To be eligible for a medical redshirt, a player has to have the injury occur in the first half of the season and play less than 30 percent of their games. Dunn qualifies on both accounts.

“She’s been running, doing basketball stuff and a lot of strength and conditioning with our strength and conditioning coach Jake (Tuura),” YSU coach John Barnes said. “Everything’s great in terms of her knee. I think it’s more of turning in the paperwork than anything else.”

A game later, Emma VanZanten, a 6-4 junior post, wrenched her right ankle. Another post player gone.

Before Dunn and VanZanten were gone, so was 6-1 redshirt sophomore Amara Chikwe. She was instrumental in the 2018-19 team which won 22 games, went to the Horizon League semifinals and Women’s National Invitation Tournament. She suffered a concussion at the beginning of the season and had residual effects forcing her to watch from the bench.

Lexi Wagner, a 5-10 freshman guard, tore her ACL in a preseason practice. Wagner will be medically redshirted, but Chikwe and VanZanten cannot since they had previous redshirted seasons.

Wagner has been diligently working to get back for the 2020-21 season.

“Incredibly hard worker,” Barnes said. “She was going to be a full-time player on this year’s team. It wasn’t meant to be. Surgery went well. The rehab went well. We’re taking it slow because we can. She’s at full-go for next season.”

Four injured. Only 10 active players remained, until VanZanten came back for the last couple games of the season.

Juniors McKenah Peters and Chelsea Olson had to take control. Olson, a first-team, All-Horizon League player was the rock for the Penguins with 12.1 points, 7.2 rebounds and 2.9 assists per game. Peters, who moved to play closer the basket this season, had 10.6 points and 5.1 rebounds.

This year’s team was reliant on its freshmen, led by 5-8 Maddie Schires, who shot 65-of-182 from 3-point range — setting a YSU freshman record. Taylor Petit, a 5-8 redshirt freshman, averaged 7.4 points and 4.8 rebounds.

Even Peters and Petit were out most of January with injuries.

However, Jen Wendler, a 6-2 freshman forward, was the only player on the active roster above 6-0 for most of the year. She averaged 6.3 points and four rebounds per game.

“For them to buckle down and achieve what they did is great,” Barnes said. “We only lost three kids two years ago and we had a nine-win season. For all these freshmen to be able to step up and play as well as they did and do what they did on the court, it’s pretty amazing. It’s going to help us tremendously for the future.”

The YSU women signed 5-9 guard Malia Magestro from Kennedy Catholic High School (Hermitage Pa.), 5-10 forward Nneka Obiazor (Eden Prairie, Minn.) and 6-0 guard Emma Randall from Shelby High School in November.

Magestro was the District 10, Region 1 Player of the Year and has 2,169 career points for Kennedy (Pa.) Catholic, which made the Pennsylvania Class A quarterfinals before the tournament was suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Randall, a third-team, all-Ohio selection, led the Shelby Whippets to their Mid-Ohio Athletic Conference championship with 14.5 points per game.

Obiazor averaged 14 points, 5.4 rebounds and 2.2 assists for Eden Prairie.

However, 5-5 junior guard Ny’Dajah Jackson and 5-6 sophomore guard Deleah Gibson have entered the NCAA transfer portal. Jackson, an Oakland, Calif., native, played two years at Providence College before transferring to YSU. She averaged 7.4 points last season.

Jackson, an East Cleveland Shaw High School graduate, averaged 1.5 points per game in two seasons with YSU.

All Barnes wants in 2020-21 is not to talk about his team’s injuries.

“I hope we stay healthy,” he said. “That’s the bottom line. I think we’re a 20-win season every year if we stay healthy. I really do.

“I think every year we stay healthy it’s a 20-win season. Next year is no different. I think if we stay healthy there’s no reason we shouldn’t be fighting for a league title. It all depends on our health.”

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