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Women return home vs. Phoenix

YOUNGSTOWN — Two straight wins on the road was the elixir the Youngstown State University women’s basketball needed as it seemed to be hobbling into the tail end of its road trip last week.

Jen Wendler didn’t hesitate. She has been the team’s lone post player, thrust into a role no one thought the 6-foot-2 freshman would be in this time of the season. Injuries do that to a team, multiple ones for the Penguins (11-7, 4-3 Horizon League) in this case.

Wendler was the Horizon League Freshman of the Week, averaging 11 points per game in last week’s wins at Oakland and Detroit Mercy. She averaged 7.5 rebounds, shot 54.5 percent from the floor and was 9-of-9 from the foul line in the two games in Michigan.

The Penguins host Green Bay (9-10, 4-3) tonight at 7 and welcome Milwaukee into Beeghly Center on Sunday at 1.

Wendler’s minutes have expanded as 6-3 Mary Dunn and 6-4 Emma VanZanten remain out of action, ever since knee and foot injuries benched the pair in November.

YSU coach John Barnes thought about redshirting Wendler this season. That was before the physical dismantling of the team began, bringing the once-deep Penguins team to eight players.

“Everyone can see how she’s growing and getting better,” Barnes said of Wendler. “For her to get Horizon League Freshman of the Week was a great honor for her. She’s been working hard.

“She’s in my position group, I think I’m harder on her than some of the other players. It’s a difficult place to be, but I’m proud of her for learning and growing, getting better. I’m happy she was able to get the award.”

Chelsea Olson’s lanky 5-10 frame has wiggled in and out of defenses since she has been with the Penguins — giving the opposition more than its share of fits. Her consistency has been felt throughout the program.

She was the other guiding hand for YSU with averages of 14.5 points, 10.5 rebounds, three assists and two blocks against Oakland and Detroit Mercy.

Olson put herself in the upper echelon of Youngstown State women’s basketball players when she became the third Penguin in program history to record 750 points, 500 rebounds and 250 assists. She joins former YSU legends Danielle Carson and former Boardman High School standout Liz Hauger. Olson ranks in the top 11 in the Horizon League in scoring, rebounding, assists and blocks.

Olson had to be more than a point guard for YSU.

“She has to pick up the scoring role, too,” Barnes said. “It’s an added weight to her shoulders. Instead of looking to be more of the passer, she’s going to look to be more of the scorer. It’s more of a mindset change. It’s more pressure.

“With the two road wins, she handled it great. She stepped up her scoring. She stepped up her game, which obviously helped us win. She got the player of the week, too. I’m so happy for her, too.”

McKenah Peters and Taylor Petit, who ironically received the same award after YSU’s last homestand at the end of 2019, are starting to get back to form after being injured early on the five-game road stretch.

That will put YSU back up to 10 active players.

“We need that depth. We need to give players break,” Barnes said.

The Penguins do not get a break as they host an always tough Green Bay team.

The Phoenix have won three of their last five, including Sunday’s 73-36 thrashing of UIC. But it won’t be easy on the Phoenix, either.

Youngstown State is 23-2 at Beeghly Center since the start of the 2018-19 season. One was a loss to Yale by two points last season and the other was an overtime setback to Kent State on Nov. 9.

Green Bay has had its share of injuries as well.

“They’re looking to take steps forward,” Barnes said. “It’ll be a difficult game. We have to find some way to rise to the occasion.”

So far this season, these Penguins have managed to overcome most obstacles thrown their way.

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