By Dan Hiner
After starting 0-3, the Youngstown State University women’s basketball team has won three out of the last four games and looks to continue improving against an instate rival, the University of Akron.
The Penguins are looking to avenge a 74-49 loss from last season at Akron. Last season, the Zips controlled the paint — outscoring the Penguins 46-22 and out rebounded YSU 58 to 27.
“I don’t think we were ready. I don’t think we came out as prepared as we should have been, and ultimately, that’s my responsibility,” YSU head coach John Barnes said. “I’m doing everything I can to make sure we’re ready for the game tomorrow—come out with a lot of fire and passion and energy. That’s all we can do.
“Once the ball goes up, it’s whoever plays the hardest and gets the job done. We’re doing everything we can to
make sure we’re on track and ready to go this year.”
This season, the Penguins are coming off a hard-fought 69-68 win over Saint Francis University and the team is more prepared to deal with the Zips’ scoring.
“We had to compete for 40 minutes. To grind it out and get the win in the end, really helps us with some confidence,” Barnes said. “Obviously with a lot of young players you need that, and the experience of being in a close game and winning it will help us.”
After injuries to two starters in the backcourt, the Penguins were looking for production from some new faces. And during the last few games, freshman Mailee Jones has stepped up and contributed on offense.
The freshman has started the last four games for the Penguins. In Jones’ first four collegiate starts, she has averaged 8.2 points per game, including a career-high 18 points against Sacramento State University. Against St. Francis, Jones scored 13 points, grabbed four rebounds and had two assists.
“Mailee has done a great job for us, especially as a freshman playing a lot of minutes, starting. She’s got a really great attitude,” Barnes said. “She’s in for the team first and foremost. She stays very calm out there whether things are going well or not so well. That presence helps us out. She’s a solid scorer, a solid defender and she takes care of the basketball—which are all very important things for our team.”
Jones production came just in time. YSU forward Sarah Cash got her first start of the season against St. Francis. Cash only had two points and five rebounds on Saturday.
Until then, Cash has been coming off the bench after knee surgery in the offseason. Barnes said Cash is going to be a “day-to-day player” and her starts could be limited depending on how much pain she’s in during pregame.
During the last four games against Akron, the home team has won each match.
Akron has started the season 3-2 and is coming off a 80-59 win at Winthrop University. The Zips’ leading scorer is Hannah Plybon, averaging 19.2 points per game. The second leading scorer is Megan Sefcik, an Austintown Fitch High School graduate, who averages 11.2 points per game.
“Akron does a great job at scoring the basketball. Plygon is their leading scorer. She’s a heck of a guard. She could really shoot it and take it off the dribble—she’s very well rounded. They like to push the ball and get early offense.”
Tipoff is set for 7 p.m. on Tuesday at the Beeghly Center.