By Andrew Zuhosky
After finishing with a 15-16 record in the 2013-2014 basketball season, the Youngstown State University women’s team looked to continue improving the program. Halfway through this season the Penguins look as if they improved drastically after starting conference play.
As of Jan. 10, YSU posted a 12-3 overall mark, going undefeated in the five previous home games, as well as six of the team’s nine road contests. The Penguins’ most recent contest — a 66-43 loss to the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay Phoenix last Saturday — dropped the Penguins 1-1 in Horizon League play.
YSU’s success is due in large part to the play of senior forwards Heidi Schlegel and Latisha Walker. Both have become critical parts of the offense.
Schlegel, who led all Penguin scorers with 14 points Saturday afternoon, averages 14.5 points per game and 8.8 rebounds per contest while knocking down 40.7 percent of her shots.
Walker, the team’s top rebounder on Saturday with eight rebounds, is shooting 49.2 percent from the field averaging — 11.7 and 7.6 rebounds a game.
In Monday afternoon’s press conference, head coach John Barnes called his team’s most recent contest against Wisconsin-Green Bay a learning experience.
“I learned how good the Phoenix are,” Barnes said. “I expected them to be very good and they were every bit as good as I thought they were. I think they played very well and we didn’t necessarily play as well as we could have, obviously. A lot of that had to do with their defense. They came out really intense and pressuring, not letting us do what we wanted to do. Having two freshmen guards and a sophomore — they learned a lot. We have to come in at a very high level in order to compete with arguably the best team in our league.”
The Penguins are now in the heart of their schedule and beginning conference play, and Barnes knows the importance of winning league games.
“Every game is crucial,” he said. “Every game is tough for us because I don’t think we’re hands-down better than anyone else in the league. We have to perform at a high level to get wins. Throughout the beginning of the season, we’ve overachieved and done some surprising things to some people. We’re going to have to continue to overachieve if we want to be in the top three spots.”
Schlegel used the loss at Green Bay as a lesson.
“I think we just learned that we have to come ready to play,” Schlegel said. “I think it was really hard because our freshmen didn’t understand what to expect. They’ve never played in that environment, so I think that’s a big, huge step we took on Saturday, just learning that you can’t let the environment affect us. We just have to stick to how we play and focus on what we have to do.”
The Penguins are returning to the Beeghly Center on Jan. 15 to play Cleveland State University. YSU has an undefeated record at home of 5-0 at this point in the season.
Barnes also took time out to praise the Vikings.
“They score a lot of points in a motion offense,” he said. “They shoot the three very well, they lead the league in 3-point makes and field goal percentage. I think they’re tied for second in the league in 3-point field goal percentage. They’re athletic, they’re quick and they can attack the basket.”
Tip-off for this week’s contest is set for 7 p.m. at Beeghly Center.