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It’s official; Dunn gets 2nd shot at senior year

Mary Dunn’s phone rang on Tuesday. It was her coach, John Barnes.

Not a surprise the Youngstown State University women’s basketball coach called. It was Dunn’s 22 birthday.

Dunn played the first four games of last season — her senior season — before succumbing to problems with her right meniscus and eventually undergoing surgery. The 6-foot-3 Washington, Pa., native never made a full recovery before the end of the season.

She waited on the NCAA, wondering if she would get a fifth year of eligibility to play for the Penguins.

Barnes received the email from the Indianapolis office and called Dunn to tell her she’d be coming back.

“We were pretty confident it was going to go through,” Barnes said. “With the (COVID-19) pandemic going on, it pushed all of the NCAA things back. It was starting to wear on her and her family and obviously our staff and our program. She’s obviously a huge part of what we do.

“It was a big relief to get the email that she has been cleared.”

To get a medical redshirt, an athlete must not have participated in more than three contests or 30 percent of their season schedule (whichever is greater) and not after the halfway point of the season.

“We all thought it was going to happen, but there was that little bit of fear that it wouldn’t happen and all my plans would have to change,” Dunn said. “It was a big relief and super excited to finally get going officially.”

YSU had a rash of injuries last season which left the Penguins relying on redshirt freshmen and true freshmen to fill roles on a team that finished 13-17.

Dunn will be one of four seniors next season with Chelsea Olson, McKenah Peters and Emma VanZanten. Dunn, Olson and Peters all averaged in double figures for the Penguins last season.

“It’s nice to have good depth and players that have put some solid minutes in,” Barnes said. “We played with so many freshmen last year. It’s tough for any freshman to step into Division I basketball and play right away. So to have a lot of experience back and a lot of depth is exciting.”

Dunn averaged 17 points a game in the first four contests, including a career-high 30 points in a come-from-behind win against Eastern Michigan.

Dunn is excited to come back to a post where VanZanten (6-4) and sophomore Jen Wendler (6-2) played last season. Wendler had to take the brunt of the post role last season because VanZanten was injured most of the season and 6-1 Amara Chikwe was out with a concussion.

“They’ve had some experience under their belt,” Dunn said. “With me coming back, I think our post presence is going to be really dominant.”

It was difficult for Dunn to see her teammates on the floor without her being there.

She’s not one just to sit and be on the bench. Dunn had to find a way to stay active. She mentored the younger players, something former YSU and Lordstown High School standout Sarah Cash did for her.

“I really just tried to be the best leader and captain I could be,” said Dunn, who was a first-team, all-Horizon League player her junior season. “This year, for sure, was the best job I’ve ever done at that just because I was able to completely remove myself from the individual and being all into a team. I always feel like I’m a team player, but there’s always moments when I’m having a really bad game or I’m having a really good game and I’m thinking about myself.

“This year, the best part for me is I got to see it from a different viewpoint. That’s going to make me a much better player. It also made our team better to have that coaching presence who was also a player — someone that understood. You can only hear your coaches say something so many times. Coming from a player definitely helped them as well as myself.”

Dunn starts online graduate school in July, but returns to campus on Friday. Basketball players can be involved in voluntary strength and conditioning held outdoors through June.

Coaches cannot be involved in the sessions. Barnes is waiting for the NCAA to give basketball clearance to do work indoors. Then, he can see Dunn in person.

“Those people around the program understand our post play is our rock what our offense goes through,” Barnes said. “To have a player of Mary’s caliber, a go-to player like that, is outstanding.”

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