Bullseye: Penguins enter season with target on backs
When you’ve been to the mountaintop, it becomes that much harder to get there again. That’s exactly what the Youngstown State University women’s basketball team did last year.
The Penguins won the Horizon League regular season title which was YSU’s first regular season conference championship since 1999.
Unfortunately, the Penguins postseason crashed quite hard after an incredible year for the program. Behind the direction of John Barnes, the roster took on nine new players and found a way to win games at an unprecedented rate.
Now, the Penguins will operate with a target on its back which hasn’t always been true. Luckily, a large amount of last year’s team is still on this roster.
MADY AULBACH – When you look just at numbers, it could be easy to question Aulbach’s place on this team but that’s why the game isn’t just about numbers.
Aulbach returns as the main point guard on this team looking to lead the Penguins to another regular season title.
Last year, she started in 26 of YSU’s 30 games. She finished with career-high averages in points (4.0), steals (1.0), assists (2.6), rebounds (4.0), and minutes (30.0). None of those will jump at anyone which is exactly why she hasn’t gotten where she is.
The 5-foot-5 senior guard does everything right whether that translates to her own personal numbers or not. She plays hard everything single play and brings a tenacity that makes this team click.
PAIGE SHY – In my humble opinion, this was the best addition to last year’s team and will bear fruit again. She became a glue piece immediately not only with her skill set but with her mind set. She helped bring this team together with an infectious personality that many of this team seem to have.
On the court, she was very important. She averaged a career-high 8.1 points. She also contributed 4.5 rebounds per game with 1.1 offensive rebounds. The 5-foot-10 combo forward also had one steal per game which helped the Penguins be a force defensively.
Shy also shot over 80 percent from the free throw line. She will need to continue the improvement from her first two years at Marshall for this team to repeat.
MALIA MAGESTRO – Magestro quickly became one of this team’s most important players. She started in 20 of the 27 games she played.
She, like Aulbach, finished the year with many career highs. With new career averages in points (10.2), assists (1.6), rebounds (2.3), and free throw percentage (82.8).
With that, she easily became one of Barnes’ most important pieces in league play.
The 5-foot-9 junior guard will now be firmly cemented in this starting lineup.
MEGAN CALLAHAN – This very well may have been Barnes’ best pickup from the lazy offseason because Callahan brought a ton of experience from conference foe Robert Morris.
Last year, she averaged 6.7 points per game and also hit on 77.4 percent of her free throws. She started in 22 of 30 games and scored in double figures eight times.
She, like many, brought some intangibles that weren’t measurable in a box score. She not only knew how to play the style that YSU has always played but she brought a tenacity that was much needed.
It should be noted that her spot in this starting lineup may be up for a bit of debate based on how she was taken out of the starting lineup for about eight conference games after starting all year to that point.
Her veteran presence as a sixth-year senior should win the starting job in my mind.
LILLY RITZ – After being one of the best Division II players in the country, John Barnes hit for what seems like the 100th time in the state of West Virginia. She came to the program from DII Wheeling and did just what she did there; Dominate
Ritz was easily the best player on the best team and that wasn’t by accident.
The 6-1 fifth year senior averaged nearly a double-double with 16.9 points and 9.5 rebounds. That was all done while shooting nearly 57 percent.
She was also a great defender with .9 blocks per game and 2.0 steals per game.
Ritz finished with 10 20-point games and 11 10-rebound games.
All things considered, her spot was never in question and the only question can be…. How much better can she truly get? Hopefully the answer is better than her best.
SHAY-LEE KIRBY – The Austin Peay transfer comes over from the Governors after three seasons.
As a junior last year, Kirby helped lead Austin Peay to 20 wins as a starter. She averaged 7.2 points, and 2.9 rebounds. She shot 39.6 percent from three while hitting 47 threes.
The 5-foot-10 senior guard’s ability to hit 3-point shots is going to be super important off this bench. She could be apart of a very deep bench which is exactly what this team has needed.
DENA JARRELLS – Jarrells comes over as a senior from Chattanooga after three years.
Last season, she was one of Chattanooga’s best players as she led the Mocs in many categories. She averaged 10.4 points per game with 2.0 assists and 1.5 steals. She also nailed 57 3-points.
The 5-foot-7 guard has the potential shooting prowess off the bench that could turn out to be the biggest boost that this roster has needed. Jarrells defensive ability will also be huge in helping this shore up any issues it seemed to have last year.
EMILY SAUNDERS – This is Barnes’ biggest addition to this class. I mean that literally.
Saunders comes from a blue blood women’s program, the University of Tennessee after three seasons as a Volunteer.
The 6-foot-5 senior can potentially fill a hole this team has had down low. The size alone allows her to be given considerable runs especially early in the season.
She comes from Tennessee after what most would consider an underwhelming career so far. Most people haven’t gone to a Power-5 school either.
Last season, she averaged 1.5 points and 1.2 rebounds in 20 games last season.
She was a highly touted high school prospect that scored 1,243 points, grabbed 892 and blocked 559 shots out of Wyoming East High School in New Richmond, WV.
She has all the makings of an instant bench contributor.
MACKENZIE HURD – Hurd is the only true freshman that is new to this team.
She battled injuries her last two years in high school. She was committed to Akron as a walk-on but eventually came to YSU on full scholarship.
She had a scholarship from Xavier before the injuries began after her sophomore year.
In her last full season of hoops, Hurd averaged 14 points per game. The 5-10 guard could very well become a key piece but this bench is very deep at the moment so it’s not guaranteed.
Key Returners (Non-Starters)
LINDSEY MACK – As one of the Penguins more viable bench options, Mack played in all 30 of YSU’s games last year. As a 5-foot-10 guard, the fifth-year senior was very important to this team’s overall success.
She was a big threat as a 3-point shooter as she hit on 33.3 percent of her attempts last season in 11.3 minutes per game off the bench. She averaged 2.5 3-point attempts per game.
She may not have had massive stats by any stretch of the imagination but what she did bring was not a stat sheet thing. Like so many of the new players that were on this roster last year, she brought excitement. The most important thing last year was chemistry and this team was loaded with it. She had a major part of that in a bench role. She will yet again.
JEN WENDLER – Wendler is a tough player to gauge. As a freshman, it seemed that she would fill that void left by Mary Dunn’s departure to Pittsburgh but that season has been her best so far.
Last season, the 6-foot-2 center averaged 2.2 points, and 1.3 rebounds.
It remains to be seen if she will make a major impact with the addition of Saunders but she’s been in the this program for three years so she will get her chance at minimum.
This is actually the most exciting section based on the fact that there is only one person. The issue is the person.
CHELSEA OLSON – That said, the loss of Olson will be felt early and sometimes often. Olson goes down as one of the best multi-dimensional players in the last decade of Penguins basketball.
She finished ranked 11th in program history with 1,461 points, 7th in program history with 848 rebounds, fourth in assists with 516, and third with 124 blocks.
The one thing that can be said for Olson is that no matter what, she played.
She currently holds the program record with 142 games played and 4,432 minutes played.
It is almost too easy to say that she will go down as an all-time great Penguin. I’ll say it anyway; She is and should always be considered one of the great YSU women’s basketball players based on her best ability of availability.
This Penguins team has the ability to do something that hasn’t been done since the year 2000. This team has all the makings of a team that can win the Horizon League tourney and make the NCAA tournament.
The most pressing matter will be getting over the hump of playing winning basketball during the month of March.
That has always been the Achilles heel of the program and this team has most of the things it needs to win games all year long.
We all know how things can go in directions no one wants but you can’t truly predict that no matter how smart we all think we are.
HoriZone Roundtable Prediction
2nd Place (tie)