By Marc Weems
When center Mary Dunn officially signed with Youngstown State University, she didn’t expect to become a starter.
“Definitely coming into this season, I wasn’t expecting to start,” Dunn said. “Once I knew that Sarah [Cash] went down; she just really couldn’t do anything. Even though she was still around early, I knew that I needed to step up.”
The original idea for YSU women’s basketball was to have Sarah Cash as a starting forward along with Nikki Arbanas as the starting shooting guard. Neither of those two things happened for very long. Arbanas tore her ACL before the season even started and Cash couldn’t play due to knee issues.
“[YSU head coach John Barnes] knew that I wasn’t expecting this right away,” Dunn said. “I had to use this opportunity to get better.”
Dunn took advantage of her role on the team by winning the Horizon League Freshman of the Year. Her award marked the eighth consecutive year in which the program received a postseason award.
Dunn averaged 11.4 points per game while shooting 51 percent. She also snagged four rebounds per game while blocking 0.7 shots per game.
“I was told that I needed to work really, really hard to get any playing time,” Dunn said. “Working that hard ended up paying off and I was able to play.”
Initially, she thought that she would help Cash by playing some minutes off the bench, but never what she did this year.
This workload will help her tremendously in the next three seasons.
She was made the Freshman of the Year overwhelmingly after recording 17 games with double-figure scoring, which was more than any other freshman in the league.
“The transition from high school was very weird and different,” she said. “Sarah was especially helpful to me. In high school, I could make the same move and score. I was able to block shots without having to move.”
She said that even the little things that the upperclassmen tell her that she did right or wrong made a huge difference.
Dunn has dealt with her adversity this year after she hurt her right ankle/foot in YSU’s loss to the University of Wisconsin in Green Bay. She was hurt on Jan. 26 and couldn’t start again until Feb. 11.
“This year was definitely different,” Dunn said. “Since my sophomore year of high school, I was used to winning. Once I came here; even though I felt like I was doing well, I knew I needed to keep getting better. Obviously, something isn’t clicking.”
She also said that being in a situation in which you aren’t winning is odd, but it’s something to learn from.
Dunn is the first Penguin to win Freshman of the Year in school history and just the second player to win the award in general. Jen Perugini won newcomer of the year in 2001-2002. Dunn was also just the fourth girl to be a part of the All-Freshman team. She joined teammates Jenna Hirsch and Indiya Benjamin on that list, as well as Dorothy Bowers in the 1984-1985 season.
“I definitely see this as a team award,” Dunn said. “This is definitely all for my team. I wouldn’t be scoring if they weren’t getting me the ball. If they weren’t helping in practices and the games, I wouldn’t be here right now.”
She also said that she is excited for the opportunity to play on a stage like the Horizon League Basketball Championship. She wants to make the most with what she was given,, and so far she’s been more than she ever thought she could be.