When the women’s basketball team officially saw its placement in the Women’s National Invitational Tournament on Monday night, head coach Bob Boldon noticed a recently absent emotion in his team.
“I saw an excitement that I haven’t seen in a while from them,” he said.
Youngstown State University (22-9) will host Indiana State University at 7:05 p.m. Thursday at Beeghly Center. Because of their second-place regular season Horizon League finish, the Penguins were an automatic qualifier for the postseason tournament.
Still, that didn’t deter the players’ spirits over being selected.
“I think to actually see your name on the board and see the game is in Youngstown, Ohio, provided a little more excitement,” Boldon said. “It kind of made the situation a little bit more real.”
Following a 72-45 loss in the semifinals of the Horizon League Championship on Friday, it was no guarantee the automatic bid would ring true. Boldon said he needed to re-evaluate his team before accepting the invitation.
He did just that.
“It was probably the longest team meeting that we ever had,” Boldon said. “We worked some things out and agreed that if we were going to play basketball, we were going to play it the way it was supposed to be played: with a lot of effort and a lot of energy.”
Junior guard Liz Hornberger said the team is motivated by Friday’s poor performance. She wasn’t shy about discussing the team’s lack of effort either at Wednesday’s press conference.
“That’s the frustrating part about being on a team sometimes. … You have to depend on others,” she said. “I’m not saying I played a perfect game and I had the best attitude for that game either, but if there are two or three people that don’t want to show up for that game, it goes down the tank. … Sometimes that dependency can ruin someone else’s hopes and dreams.”
With that being said, Hornberger is “very happy” for a shot at redemption.
“I’m very relieved we got in, and I’m relieved for another chance,” she said. “I hope that we don’t take this one for granted like we did on Friday.”
The Sycamores — from the Missouri Valley Conference — enter with a record of 18-12. They last played on Friday, losing to the University of Northern Iowa in the MVC quarterfinals. Anna Munn leads ISU with 14.7 points per game.
Boldon said he knows the Sycamores pose a tough challenge and are well tested from the “highly skilled” MVC.
“They have a shooter [Munn] who shoots it very well, and we’re going to have trouble containing her,” he said. “Then, they have a post player [Rachel Mahan], which is always a challenge when you play a team with a good post player.”
YSU — with a 13-1 home record — should be helped by its familiar surroundings.
Boldon credited the athletic administration for its support in landing a home postseason game. Hornberger expressed her gratitude as well.
“I was really happy. The first thing I saw was ‘at Youngstown State,’” she said. “I’m very happy we get to play here at home.”
Boldon said he is expecting another large crowd — similar to the 1,648 fans that were in attendance for the Penguins’ last home game on March 13. It may mark the last Beeghly Center contest for Horizon League Player of the Year Brandi Brown, a senior forward averaging 20.5 points and 11.3 rebounds per game.
In a win-or-go-home scenario, Hornberger is focused on sending her teammate out the appropriate way — unlike the Horizon League tournament loss.
“I did not want to end like that, not just for me personally, but more for Brandi,” she said. “She’s done so much for this team, so much for this program. To come out and show no heart, and that’s the way her career’s going to end, is not fair for her.”