By Dan Hiner
The Youngstown State University women’s basketball team will open its season on Friday night against American University, but the team is still trying to find a way to cope without starting guard Nikki Arbanas.
Arbanas suffered a torn ACL during the first practice of the season, and the YSU coaching staff has been trying to find a way of replacing her since.
The Penguins’ offense made a school record 299 3-pointers last season, but 89 came from Arbanas.
“Several of the players stepped up throughout the practice season,” YSU head coach John Barnes said. “Nikki [Arbanas] went down the first practice of the year, so it’s given us some time to give the other players extra reps, and I’m very excited about what some of the newcomers have done and some of the returners, how they’ve stepped up. We’re looking to kinda fill her shoes collectively and so far so good.”
Barnes said the Penguins’ offense has always made scoring from the post a priority, and the offense will try to limit its outside shots since the team is without its best shooter.
Barnes also said forward Sarah Cash is day-to-day entering the game. Cash was in practice on Monday, but Barnes said he can’t guarantee if she is going to play. Barnes said the decision to play Cash on Friday will depend on how she feels prior to tipoff.
“I think everyone needs to pick up the leadership and talk and communicate more on the court, because we’re missing the key components we had last year,” forward Kelsea Newman said. “If everyone makes that a priority this year, than missing those big people, that big impact role will a lot more effective.”
Newman said the team has been trying to improve their chemistry with seven new members on the roster.
“With seven new people, the chemistry is important in just getting to know people,” Newman said. “Obviously missing Nikki [Arbanas] and not having Sarah [Cash] in right now has been tough as a team — just getting to know each other and understanding what they’re doing, what we’re doing. I think as the team practices more together, we’re getting better, and it will go a lot better.”
Despite not having Arbanas, the chemistry of the starting rotation shouldn’t be altered at the start of the season. Indiya Benjamin, Alison Smolinski, Sarah Cash, Kelley Wright and Newman all played in over 30 games last season.
Wright is replacing Arbanas in the starting five, but Wright started eight games last season after Arbanas missed some time with an injury.
This season’s roster has seven juniors and seniors on the team, the most experience group Barnes has coached since coming to YSU. The last time the Penguins had more than six was in 2012-13.
“It’s nice to have experience. Obviously, it’s important to be good leaders for the younger players that we do have,” Barnes said. “In our rotation, right now, it looks like we’ll have a good amount of experience coming in. When you get into game situations, it just creates a calm and helps you get through those times that might not be going so well. And [experience can] also be able to raise your level, raise the level of the younger players too when you have that kind of experience.”
Tipoff is set for 7 p.m. on Friday at the Beeghly Center.