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Penguins set to host Long Island

Correspondent photo / Robert Hayes YSU fifth year senior Chelsea Olson fires off a 3-pointer last Monday versus the Akron Zips. Olson is averaging 11.8 points per game, while grabbing 7 rebounds for the Penguins.

YOUNGSTOWN — After a busy start to the season and a successful road trip to begin Horizon League play, things have slowed down for the Youngstown State women’s basketball team.

The Penguins (4-0) began the season with four games in 11 days, but now are in a stretch with only one game in the same span of time.

That one matchup is a nonconference game with the Long Island Sharks at 1 p.m. Friday in the Beeghly Center.

“We definitely needed a little break here,” YSU head coach John Barnes said Sunday. “And I wouldn’t say a break, but a little time between games. It’s tough when you play a game, have two days off, (another) game, one day off. You don’t have a lot of time to brush up on the fundamentals and the basics that you kind of hang your hat on to win games. So we’ll get back to some fundamentals this weekend.”

In the Sharks, YSU is getting a team that’s dropped its first three contests: 85-66 at Penn State, 92-41 at Pitt and 59-53 in overtime at NJIT. LIU hosted Manhattan College on Wednesday afternoon.

Barnes said he doesn’t know much about LIU, though that was earlier in the week.

Of the Sharks, he did add, “They play hard, and they’re well coached.”

Forward Erykah Russell leads the Sharks in scoring at 13.3 points per game. She also grabs 6.3 rebounds per contest, while other forward Kiara Bell adds 8 points and 6.7 boards per game.

LIU has struggled with turnovers, as they’ve committed 21.7 per game as compared to just 11.3 assists. They have, however, forced 18.3 turnovers per contest.

On its end, YSU is off to a stellar start, having dispatched a pair of MAC schools — Eastern Michigan and Akron — as well as a pair of Horizon League foes on the road in Oakland and Detroit Mercy.

Those league wins over last weekend came without guard Malia Magestro, who suffered what Barnes said is a “pretty good” ankle sprain during practice last week. He noted there’s no firm timetable on her return, but that she’s rehabbing the injury.

“It kind of forced our hand,” Barnes said. “(We gave) some players some extra minutes, and they made the most of them. In the long run, that’s going to allow us to be deeper when Malia gets back. Depth is always huge, mid-season, end of season and tournament time.”

Mady Aulbach has started in Magestro’s place since the injury, while Lindsey Mack has seen some increased time on the court. Mack played about four minutes against Akron and nine against Eastern Michigan, but played 15 at Oakland and 18 at Detroit Mercy.

Meanwhile, in the scoring department, the committee approach has continued for the Penguins, though Lilly Ritz had a monster weekend in Michigan. The transfer forward poured in 24 points against Oakland and then 25 against Detroit Mercy to lead YSU. Those performances earned her Horizon League Player of the Week honors.

“Lily has done a great job for us. She’s figuring out the length and athleticism of the Division I level, and I think she has a lot of talent and her teammates get her the ball,” Barnes said. “It’s really fun because the last game (at Detroit Mercy), I looked at the stat sheet and couldn’t believe she had that many (points). She does it very quietly, and she’s just a great kid, a great player.”

Barnes also is pleased with the Penguins’ ability to gut out close wins so far. Of the four victories, three were within single digits, and the wins over EMU and Akron were by a combined five points.

“We’ve had a few good ones now, and we’re really just learning about each other and learning what this team is all about and what we can do,” he said. “There have been struggles, there have been battles, you know, but my biggest excitement is that we’ve been in pretty much close games every game, and the team finds a way to grind it out and get the win.”

The Penguins are scheduled to practice early Thursday so that players who grew up nearby can go home to see their families for the Thanksgiving holiday. Those that can’t, Barnes said, were invited to the Aulbachs’.

Then Friday, it’s go-time again. Barnes is eager to play back at home.

“I think we had just a fantastic crowd for the home opener, and that energy they bring really fuels our team,” he said. “Like I said in one of the previous press conferences, the fans kind of willed us to win that last one, and hopefully we’ll have a great turnout Friday. More people don’t have to work or be in school, so bring the family and come out and support the team.”

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