By Brian Yauger
After falling short of the Horizon League tournament championship, the Youngstown State University women’s basketball team gets one more chance to shine in the Women’s National Invitation Tournament.
“We are extremely excited to be invited to participate in the WNIT,” YSU coach John Barnes said in a press release on Monday. “The team has worked very hard to earn this opportunity to play against some of the best teams in the country. Sarah Cash, Alison Smolinski and Melinda Trimmer, our three seniors, have done an outstanding job leading us to this postseason berth, and I couldn’t be happier for them to get another opportunity to represent YSU in this national tournament.”
Just like the NIT in men’s basketball, the WNIT is the second largest tournament in women’s college basketball.
Despite the “second banana” nature of the tournament, that doesn’t mean the team isn’t highly motivated to go out and win.
“If you can’t get fired up to play them, then you’re in it for the wrong reasons or you shouldn’t be in it,” Barnes said. “We’ll definitely be fired up, ready to go and ready to compete.”
The “lesser” stigma of both of the NITs has sort of gone away anyway as college basketball has gotten more and more talented.
“The WNIT is definitely a more prestigious tournament at this time,” Barnes said the last time the Penguins qualified. “There’s Big Ten schools, ACC schools, SEC schools, so we knew whoever we drew was going to be a challenge, but we’re excited about the challenge.”
Up first for the Penguins is a trip down to the University of Cincinnati to take on the Bearcats.
With such a quick turnaround in the little bit of time Barnes has had scouting Cincinnati, he compared them to another team Penguin fans may know of.
“They have a really good post player who is shooting 50 percent from the field in league play and several guards that are tough,” Barnes said. “They remind me of Wright State [University] really. They’re that kind of team.”
Leading the Bearcats in scoring was Ilmar’l Thomas. Thomas averaged 13.4 points-per-game on the year and led the team with 226 rebounds.
The key for YSU is to shut down Thomas. Luckily for the Penguins, they have a stout defensive group. Namely McKenah Peters, who Barnes gave some very high praise towards.
“We would not be where we are without her,” Barnes said. “She revels guarding the other team’s best perimeter player and does everything she can to stop them.”
There will be some familiar faces in the tournament with two other Horizon League teams in the field. Wright State made the NCAA Tournament after winning the conference tournament.
Joining YSU in the tournament are the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay and Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis.
Tipoff for the game is Thursday, March 21 at 7 p.m. at Fifth Third Arena in Cincinnati. The winner of the game moves on to face the winner of the game between the University of Minnesota and the University of Northern Iowa.