YSU women looking to 2019-20

Youngstown State has had 21 or more victories in three of the past five seasons.

This past campaign, the Penguins women’s basketball team had the most since winning 23 in the 2012-13 season, getting 22 victories and advancing to the Horizon League semifinals for the fifth time in the past seven years.

There’s been Women’s National Invitational Tournament bids, along with runs in the Women’s Basketball Invitational. That’s the furthest the Penguins have advanced, which puts YSU in the upper echelon of the Horizon League.

YSU coach John Barnes, who just finished his sixth season, wants more as does this Penguins program.

The Penguins head into the offseason with first-team, all-Horizon League player Mary Dunn returning. The 6-foot-3 center had numerous double-doubles leading to the Penguins’ 16-1 home mark and vaulting YSU to the top tier of the league.

Barnes said she’s worked extremely hard to be the best player she can be, leading the Penguins. It needs to continue heading into her senior season.

“We need to take a step forward this summer in terms of effort and dedication to make ourselves better and the team better to try to take that next step forward to winning a conference title,” Barnes said. “She’s a big part of it being a captain and a leader.”

There’s a lot for the Penguins to fill next season losing three key pieces to its puzzle with seniors Sarah Cash, Alison Smolinski and Melinda Trimmer graduating. Cash, a Lordstown native, has been the go-to player in the post the past couple of seasons. Smolinski is the school’s all-time 3-point shooter and set the Horizon League record for 3s in a season. Trimmer came on this year and was a key ingredient with her presence in the backcourt, leading the league in assist-to-turnover ratio.

Chelsea Olson, a versatile player in the backcourt and team’s leading rebounder, along with McKenah Peters, the team’s top defender, both return and have two years remaining. Amara Chikwe and Deleah Gibson also return with three years left, key members off the bench.

Madison Mallory is in the NCAA transfer portal, expected to leave the program.

The Penguins had four players sitting out last season.

Gabby Lupardus, a former West Virginia player of the year, is one of two freshmen who were redshirted. She sat out due to a knee injury, but Barnes said she was recently cleared and resuming day-to-day activities.

Taylor Petit, a Wisconsin native and all-state player, had a nagging shoulder injury. She is working to be cleared to play.

Lupardus is a combination guard, while Petit is a point guard.

Western Michigan transfer Emma Van Zanten, a 6-4 post, brings great size and strength to the Penguins. She also has a soft touch around the basket and can step out and shoot jumpers.

Ny’Dajah Jackson, a 5-5 junior guard, transferred in from Providence College. She’s an explosive combination guard who can shoot the 3 and drive into the paint.

Van Zanten and Jackson have two years remaining, while Lupardus and Petit will be redshirt freshmen.

“It was exciting they were able to have a year where they were able to learn the system, see how things were ran here,” Barnes said of those four players.

Add five freshmen signed in November.

The first is a 5-5 highly-touted guard from Blackhawk (Pa.) High School in Mady Aulbach.

“She’s very quick, unlimited motor,” Barnes said. “She just goes, goes, goes. She can shoot the 3, penetrate. She’s got lots of assists. She’ll be a great addition.”

Lexi Wagner, a 5-10 guard is the all-time leading scorer at Gale-Ettrick-Trempealeau High School in Galesville, Wisconsin. She is one of three Wisconsin incoming freshmen who are all-state players.

Barnes said she’s a “long, athletic guard. She has a super-high IQ. Extremely hard worker. Scores in all different ways from pull-ups to 3s. Very creative with the basketball.”

Jen Wendler is a 6-2 post from Owen-Withee High School in Owen, Wisconsin. She, like Wagner, is her school’s all-time leading scorer. She’ll add to the post presence for the Penguins.

“She’s going to continue a long line of talent post players that we’ve had since we’ve been here,” Barnes said.

Maddie Shires, a 5-8 shooting guard from Wausau West High School in Wausau, Wisconsin, is seen as a player similar to Smolinski, an exceptional shooter and solid ball handler.

“Another kid that will do whatever it takes to get wins. We’re excited about her,” Barnes said.

Quinece Hatcher is a 5-8 combination guard from Centennial High School in Las Vegas, Nevada, one of the best prep programs in the nation.

Her team played in the GEICO High School Basketball Nationals this past weekend in New York City.

“She’s a do-it-all player,” Barnes said. “She can play the 1-2-3-4. Long, athletic. Makes the players around her better. She’s the type of player that does what she has to do to get wins.”

Barnes expects the returning players to give a championship-type effort in every workout, individual workout and training session, including any pickup game. That goes for the incoming freshmen when they come in June.

He said last year the numbers were low so his coaching staff had to be careful not to push last year’s team beyond its limits. It’s different this year as there’s plenty of competition in the upcoming offseason.

Barnes is hopeful that raises efforts on what is a plentiful roster.

“We could have our most depth at all the positions,” Barnes said. “More importantly than that it’s how we come together, the chemistry of the team and how much they care about each other and want to work hard for each other. Those things are more important than having a ton of talent.”