Duo offers presence in paint

Staff photo / John Vargo YSU’s Emma VanZanten, left, and Mary Dunn are key parts YSU’s post play this season.

YOUNGSTOWN — An elbow here and a shove there, all out of the sight of an official. Constant, aggressive motion near the basket.

There are no easy layups in NCAA women’s basketball. There’s a constant battle every game.

Senior Mary Dunn and junior Emma VanZanten stand tall among their Youngstown State teammates and look to do the same in the Horizon League.

Dunn, a 6-foot-3 post and first-team All-Horizon League player last season, knew there would be a big void since Lordstown native Sarah Cash (6-1) played her final year when the Penguins went 22-10 during the 2018-19 campaign. Cash was one of YSU’s main defenders and an intergal part of the Penguins’ post game.

Enter the 6-4 VanZanten, who sat out last season after transferring from Western Michigan, and learned YSU’s system.

Dunn challenges herself every practice with VanZanten.

“Just being able to practice with such force and intensity every single day does really show in our play, especially if I’m working harder in practice,” Dunn said. “It makes the games go a lot smoother and seem a lot easier because I’m a lot more prepared.”

Both are friendly people off the floor. It’s when you get to that 90-foot stretch of hardwood when these two become quite aggressive.

“When you come on the floor you have to change your mindset,” VanZanten said. “When you go off the floor, go back to who you really are, your personality. You’re a whole different person. You have to be aggressive. You have to go at each other hard. Whether we’re on the same team or different teams, we come at each other and compete every day.”

YSU coach John Barnes is pleased to see the two compete, along with 6-2 freshman Jen Wendler, who Barnes said is competing for playing time.

The aggressiveness both Dunn and VanZanten show each practice is something to behold, Barnes said.

“They battle all the time,” he said. “When you have real talented, strong post players there, they are competing like crazy. That competition has raised both of their levels and made them both better players. It’s fun to watch.”

Are both going to be on the floor at the same time?

“It’ll probably happen,” Barnes said. “I’m not planning on it, but at some point it’ll probably happen.”

Either way, both are going to be intimidating forces for those who come against these YSU posts. That’s a staple of Barnes’ defense, where the offense is usually run through those closest to the basket.

“You have to have the best footwork,” VanZanten said. “You have to be fast. You have to be aggressive. He wants to see you going for basketballs. He wants you boxing out as hard as you can.

“Defense is what is going to win you a championship. You really have to come in with a different mindset of aggressiveness.”

That’s exactly what Dunn and VanZanten do each and every practice.