YSU women all about consistency

YOUNGSTOWN — The dribbles of the basketball reverberate among the walls, as well as the yells emanating from those players honed in on one task. Some are louder than others. All have the same goal: improvement.

John Barnes stood near center court, where a media table would be on game day. He pulls a piece of paper from his back pocket, looks at it and keeps to the regiment on the floor of the Beeghly Center. It’s something his Youngstown State University women’s basketball players and coach have come to expect in his sixth season.

There are three seniors, one a graduate student in Lordstown native Sarah Cash, whose right knee is supported by a black cumbersome brace. It’s just for precautionary reasons, nothing more. She is one of the focal points along with junior Mary Dunn in a low-post game that is the best in this Horizon League.

That success never happens by accident. That preparation starts here.

There are contrasting styles, but the aggressiveness is always there, sometimes more than others. Cash knows she has her limits, still protective of injuries, something she’s had to deal with since tearing her ACL at Lordstown.

Dunn, who was Horizon League Freshman of the Year, struggled last season. She’s getting that mojo from two seasons ago and is a much more aggressive player. She even knocked down her defender on numerous occasions, refreshing to see and reminiscent of YSU days gone by when the Penguins had a dominant post in its three NCAA Tournament runs in the 1990s. Dunn averages 15 points and more than seven rebounds in league play.

This year’s YSU team (14-5, 6-2 Horizon League) is a half-game out of first place, behind Green Bay and Wright State in the league standings. The Penguins defeated Wright State at home. YSU has Green Bay in Youngstown later this season.

YSU battles an always-aggressive Cleveland State team (7-12, 4-4) on Saturday at 1 p.m., in the midst of a homestand that lasts almost a month.

All that said, these Penguins take nothing for granted. They never have or will.

It starts with repetition. There’s plenty of it in these practices.

Barnes, associate head coach John Nicolais, assistant coaches Andy Crane and Ursuline High School graduate Courtney Davidson make sure things are done right, proper and follow Barnes’ script.

The Penguins coach wore a plain, gray shirt, black shorts with a YSU logo and white Nike tennis shoes. A whistle hung from his neck to complete the look. Barnes wasn’t there to stand and observe. He was an active participant.

You see, these Penguins have nine active players, two transfers who have to sit out games this season and two freshmen who are likely getting medical redshirts at the end of this season. That leaves the Penguins with nine players, and usually a rotation of seven that expands to nine on occasions.

Barnes started a drill by shooting a jumper inside the 3-point line, where the opponent’s bench would be during games. The orange, leather basketball avoided the rim and touched nothing but net on the way down to the floor with a quick bounce. He later shot one from the left elbow at the facility’s north end with the same result (note to self, never challenge Barnes to a game of horse because that mid-range game is on point). He must have had a helluva a jumper for Michigan Tech University in the early 1990s. Barnes would never say so. He’s not one to brag, just like his team. You’ll have to trust me.

The team then is doing drills in groups of three. You hear sophomore McKenah Peters keep yelling, “ball, ball, ball” on defense. She is the team’s best defender. Her job is to shut down the other team’s best scorer, something she prides herself on game after game.

If she’s not on this year’s all-defensive team, someone who didn’t vote for her needs their head examined. Ask Horizon teams she has wreaked havoc on this season.

Her actions are the main reason why YSU holds teams to 56.2 points per game, the second best mark in the Horizon next to Green Bay, just a point lower. That’s good company.

The Penguins, who have a strong upperclassmen base with all-time leading 3-point scorer Alison Smolinski, lead the league in 3s — almost nine per game. They have won seven of their last nine and won all but one at the Beeghly Center.

This kind of success starts in one place: practice. It was started in late June and continues through now, constantly going through repetition and fundamentals.

On game day, Barnes changes his attire to a suit and tie, but never gets rid of that paper. This one is thicker, rolled up and in his hand.

It’s all about consistency for this YSU team.

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