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Versatile Olson is Horizon League first-teamer

YOUNGSTOWN — Coach John Barnes looked down his bench. Some days the active grouping was smaller than others.

One face always looking back at him was Chelsea Olson. The 5-foot-10 junior guard from Westby, Wisconsin, has been the focal point for the Youngstown State University women’s basketball team this season. She’s been asked to do a lot, including moving to a point guard spot.

It’s whatever the Penguins team needs when the likes of Lexi Wagner, Mary Dunn, Emma VanZanten, Amara Chikwe, Taylor Petit and McKenah Peters have been out of action at verious times, sitting on the bench in street clothes. VanZanten, Petit and Peters are back on the active roster.

On Monday, Olson was named to the Horizon League all-conference first team. She is the first YSU guard to earn the honor since Brianne Kenneally was named after the 1999-2000 season in the Mid-Continent Conference — also the last time the Penguins went to the NCAA Tournament.

Olson averaged 12.1 points per game during the regular season and 12.8 points in league play. She ranked in the top 11 in the Horizon League in scoring, rebounding, assists, 3-pointers, blocks and steals. Only four other league players ranked in the top 11 in those categories.

Olson passed 900 career points over the weekend and has more than 500 rebounds and 250 assists. She was the first YSU player in 33 years to post a triple double — 13 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds — in the team’s opener against Canisius.

“We’ve got six players out and she’s got to carry that load on her shoulders,” Barnes said. “She is a real unselfish player to do whatever it takes to help the team. Just proud she was recognized.”

Olson said she’s honored about the recognition, especially for her team.

“With everything going on this season, it’s a little more special for our team getting that recognition, even though we’ve had the season that we had so far,” she said.

Tonight, seventh-seeded YSU (13-16, 6-12 Horizon League) plays at sixth-seeded Cleveland State (19-10, 9-9).

Dunn was the team’s only senior, but is out for the season. Barring an unforeseen circumstance, she should receive a medical redshirt from the NCAA for the 2020-21 season.

YSU has been playing with plenty of freshmen this season.

“Just got to go in and play confident and play free,” Barnes said. “All the pressure is on them (Cleveland State). They have first-team, second-team and third-team all-conference players (Mariah Miller, Mariah White and Savanna Crockett) and the defensive player of the year (White). They should arguably be the best team in our league with all the talent they have.

“We don’t have any pressure. We have no seniors. We have to go out there and play as hard as we can and leave it all on the floor.”

Cleveland State rallied in the fourth quarter to beat YSU on Jan. 10, 60-52, at the Wolstein Center. On Feb. 15, YSU dominated the Vikings in an 84-72 win. Miller had 33 points, but no other CSU player reached double figures. YSU had five players in double figures, including Olson with 12 points, six rebounds and six assists. It’s what she does.

“Each game, it depends what our team needs me to do,” Olson said. “I think it’s more so managing the game as of right now because we’re so young. People don’t understand the game as well as an upperclassmen would.

“Some nights I might not need to score 15 points a game. I just have to assist the ball and be really aggressive. Just do what I have to do during the game.”

CSU plays a zone defense, but YSU has had success against the Vikings — being patient and finding openings.

If the Penguins are successful like they were on Feb. 15, it’ll mean so much for YSU, Olson said.

“We realize it’s a new season for us,” she said. “It’s survive and advance. If we can win, it would mean so much to us.”

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