By Brian Yauger
If you haven’t checked your calendar lately, you can probably feel it in the air. Despite the frigid temperatures and snow on the ground, you can just tell that it’s March.
March. You know, the time for Shamrock Shakes, green beer and most importantly, basketball — namely the NCAA Tournament.
With the success of Youngstown State University’s basketball programs this season, basketball has gotten even more exciting.
The men’s team finished their season with a losing record, but finished the season on a heater, winning six of their last nine games to end the year with a 12-19 record and 8-10 in the Horizon League.
The young Penguins team showed tons of growth over the season and is 100 percent a different team than the team that took the court in November. The starting five for the Penguins was typically composed of three freshmen and two sophomores.
Darius Quisenberry, Jelani Simmons and Donel Cathcart III are the three freshmen and Garrett Covington and Naz Bohannon are the two sophomores.
The emergence of Quisenberry as a star in the making has been great to watch. He is averaging 13.9 points per game and in conference play averaged 16.3 points per game. Quisenberry was also just awarded conference honors, being named to the All-Horizon League second team.
His determination has guided him to this success, but as in the story I wrote in February, his hunger continues, no matter what.
“That’s very big for me and my spirits, but I can’t be satisfied because we’re still in fifth place, and I want to be able to host a game here for our fans,” Quisenberry said after winning his third straight Horizon League Freshman of the Week award. “I want to get the fourth or third spot in the Horizon League as a team.”
Covington was also given conference honors being named to the All-Defensive team.
With such a young lineup and steady improvements at the end of the regular season, it’s safe to say that this team is going to be a threat for years to come.
“Youngstown is starting to turn into a basketball town now,” Quisenberry said after winning their sixth straight game against the University of Illinois-Chicago.
As for the women’s team, they’ve done incredibly.
The Penguins finished third in the Horizon League posting a 21-8 overall record and 15-3 in the conference.
They’ve beaten every team in the Horizon League at least once, they’ve had six of the 17 Horizon League Player of the Week nominations — double what any other team has been awarded — and three players were awarded All-Horizon League honors, Sarah Cash and Chelsea Olson on the second team and Mary Dunn on first team.
Senior Alison Smolinski has ended her Penguin regular season career with a bang, breaking records and setting milestones like it was nothing.
The resurgence of Dunn as a two-way threat, McKenah Peters turning into a defensive stalwart — and let’s be honest, she was robbed for the All-Defensive Horizon League Team — Melinda Trimmer turning into a stellar point guard and Amara Chikwe recovering from last season’s injury issues and coming back strong.
All that they accomplished was with a roster nine players deep.
The feelings surrounding this time of year were summarized perfectly by women’s basketball coach John Barnes.
“It’s a great time to be a basketball fan around here,” Barnes said after last month’s huge victory over Green Bay.
Couldn’t have said it better if I tried.