By Brian Yauger
In front of a packed crowd of the Valley’s schoolchildren, the Youngstown State University women’s basketball team showed their stuff, beating Thiel College, 76-53.
The defensive play left a bit to be desired, allowing 53 points and two double-digit scorers (Destiny Johnson and Alivia Sidley), but the Penguins came out with the win. Thiel (2-9) was outsized, with their tallest player being 5-foot-9, but that gave them some favorable matchups that YSU didn’t expect.
“Defensively we were not sharp,” Penguins head coach John Barnes said. “That was disappointing. I thought they did a good job of exploiting our size. They were on a five out and that forced our post players to guard out on the perimeter and we struggled. We struggled understanding who does what, who shoots well and different things like that, so I guess that’s the part I was disappointed in. Overall, we got the win, nobody got hurt. Those are the two most important things.”
Mary Dunn put up a double-double on the afternoon, scoring 22 points and grabbing 11 boards. Dunn echoed her coaches’ sentiment to the letter.
“We definitely needed to step up on defense,” Dunn said. “I think a lot of times when you’re playing a lower division team, it’s easier to kind of sink down to that level, and that’s something we struggled with in the past. We just really need to make sure we’re always playing at our level and I mean, we’re not going to dwell on it because we have conference play coming up. We still got the win and nobody got hurt and those are the two most important things.”
The Penguins (8-3) had no problem sharing minutes. Everyone but Sarah Cash played 20 minutes or more, with Deleah Gibson seeing the most time, playing 28 minutes. Cash played five minutes, but made the most of her time scoring 13 points. Four total players for YSU scored in double digits, Dunn with 22, Cash with 13, Chelsea Olson with 12 and Alison Smolinski with 11.
“It’s big anytime you can get some of the players who don’t get a lot of minutes some experience,” Barnes said. “Everybody scored but Melinda, but she’s not worried about scoring. She had six assists and no turnovers. She had a great game at Bucknell, I think she had nine assists and no turnovers. This was another solid game for her, and I think overall I’m happy with the performance and I’m excited for the team to get home and spend some time with family over Christmas, then back to work for conference play.”
Thiel had some familiar local faces, with eight players on their roster from northeast Ohio. That included two players (Abby Triskett and Jess Vormelker) from Grand Valley High School and one from Southington Chalker High School (Courtney Warnick, who did not play.)
The Penguins end the non-conference portion of their schedule sitting at 8-3, and the best record in the Horizon League. The team opens conference play on the road against the University of Detroit Mercy Titans on Dec. 28, and end 2018 against Oakland University on Dec. 30.
Sitting 8-3 heading into conference play is an exciting prospect for the Penguins, something that no one, not even Barnes can say he expected.
“I wasn’t sure,” Barnes said about the start he expected. “I was just talking about this in the locker room. Losing the all-time leader in assists (Indiya Benjamin), losing the all time leader in 3-pointers (Nikki Arbanas) and arguably our best defender, that’s a little scary going into the season with. I’m really proud of the team and how all of them across the board have stepped their games up and effort level and focus to help us to this record.”
The Penguins have eight days to prepare as they go home for the Christmas holiday.