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March of the Penguins: YSU Women's Basketball Experiencing Turnaround
by Michael Raines ...the Horizon League
Saturday, Jan 19, 2013 11:02 am
March of the Penguins: YSU Women's Basketball Experiencing Turnaround
YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Three years ago, the Youngstown State women’s basketball team slogged through a 0-30 season.

“It was really disheartening,” senior forward Brandi Brown remembered. “It was hard to go to games and practice day in and day out and not win any games. It really messes with you physically and emotionally. It just … it wasn’t good.”

Brown is the only holdover from that winless team, and she has been a major spark behind the program’s turn around. After a win against visiting Milwaukee last night, the Penguins are 11-4 this season.

“The face of the whole resurgence has to be Brandi,” junior guard Liz Hornberger said. “She’s going to end up as one of the best players the school has ever had play for them. She a monster; she does everything we need her to do and since she’s come in, there have been more wins every season. She’s the focal point, I think, of the change.”

Head coach Bob Boldon called Brown the “heart and soul” of the program.

Brown is quick spread to credit to others.

“I think the success [starts with] all the returning athletes on our team,” Brown said. “We were not satisfied with how we’ve played the last couple years or so. It started at the summer workouts, deciding we wanted to do better and to be better than we ever had been before. It’s a total and complete mindset change that motivated us to be better.”

Last season was a start. After going 0-30 in 2009-10, the Penguins were 10-20 last year. Having earned just one road win in the three previous seasons combined, they picked up six in 2011-12. From the year before Boldon arrived to last year, Youngstown State’s scoring margin improved from -25.8 to -2.9, nearly a 23-point swing. The team’s shooting percentage improved almost seven points from behind the arc and almost eight points overall.

As Hornberger pointed out, Boldon doesn’t like running a lot of set plays, instead focusing on a motion offense with lots of screening. Obviously, it was paying off.

“Coach Boldon is the smartest coach I’ve ever played for, and I’m grateful for the opportunity,” Hornberger said.

But 10-20 still wasn’t good enough.

“We lost a lot of players from last year to this year. We had nine new players coming in and only six returners. At the beginning of the season, the six returners got together and said, ‘Hey, this is the year we do well.’ It’s no longer about just being competitive, it’s about winning and about teaching these new players how we work hard and how we play basketball.”

Hard work. Effort. Energy. Those seem to be the recurring themes when talking about the new-and-improved Youngstown State program, values that have been instilled and ingrained by Boldon and his staff.

“Coach Boldon talks to us about working hard, having energy and things like that. He has a lot of pride in what he does and he wants us to take pride in our program and in each other and in the game of basketball,” Brown said. “Anything less than playing our best and trying hard is unacceptable to him.”

Hornberger, who came to the program the same time as Boldon, said she has seen a shift in the attitude of the players over the past three seasons.

“Practices are competitive now. The [desire] to win is there now,” Hornberger said. “Everyone wants to be at practice. When I came in as a freshman, there were people who did not ever want to be at practice, who complained all the time. Now, everyone wants to be there, everyone wants to be playing basketball and everyone wants to push each other.”

Getting to this point wasn’t easy. There were ups and downs, but especially downs.

“It was a great challenge,” Boldon said. “We had to go through some losses, we had to go through some tough losses, we had to go through getting embarrassed and blown out in a couple games. But it’s all part of the process of learning how to win, learning how to play in [the Horizon League].”

Perseverance has paid off for Boldon and the Penguins. Even before this season, Boldon was able to sell recruits on turning the program around, which was important with nine newcomers joining the team this season.

Newcomers like freshman guard Shar’Rae Davis, who already this season has twice won Horizon League Newcomer of the Week honors.

“I was getting ready to commit somewhere closer to home (Grand Haven, Mich.) and all of the sudden, like, right as I’m about to sign, my mom gets a phone call … and my mom said, ‘Do you want to go visit?’ and I was like, ‘Sure, why not?’” Davis recalled with a laugh. “So we went on a visit and I just liked everything about it. It was a really welcoming atmosphere [and] the coaching staff is very well put-together.”

Solid recruiting. A winning record. And more importantly, a winning attitude. All signs seemed to be pointing to success for the Penguins.

Until last Saturday night. On the opening night of Horizon League play, Youngstown State was beaten by Valparaiso, giving up a 52.3 shooting percentage to the Crusaders.

“We were all disappointed by the effort that we put forth in that Valpo game,” Brown said. “We have to prove to ourselves that we can work hard, we can be better and we can turn things around and learn from that loss.”

“The loss to Valpo was bad, and I’m extremely upset that we lost, but at the same time we can still take something good from the loss,” Hornberger said. “We’re not heavily talented compared to some of the other teams in the conference. The reason we’re winning is because we work hard. Valpo outworked us. Maybe having that kind of game right at the start of conference is a good thing, because it’s a wake-up call.”

The Penguins did, indeed, wake up for their next game, last night’s 17-point win over the visiting Panthers. Youngstown State was led by junior guard Monica Touvelle, who had a career-high 23 points off the bench, hitting five 3-pointers. Brown added 18 points and six rebounds; Davis had 10 points and five of the team’s 17 assists. The Penguins combined for 10 steals.

“I thought we got back to our defensive principles. We had a good week of practice. We’re just trying to work on the fundamentals of basketball, trying to make sure we do things correctly,” Bolden said of the win. “I didn’t think that first conference game was a good example of our energy and effort. I thought last night was much better.”

Energy and effort are going to be important for the Penguins going forward. Tomorrow, Youngstown State hosts defending Horizon League champion Green Bay, a program that has been nothing short of dominant for the past several years.

“They don’t have any weaknesses that jump off the page at you. They’re going to play hard, they’re going to execute offensively and they’re going to be very solid defensively,” Boldon said of the Phoenix. “I think it’s a good challenge. I think it’s exciting. You don’t get a lot of opportunities to play against great teams and they are a great team.”

His players are excited, too.

“We’re just ecstatic. There are no words,” Davis said. “We’re really excited to go out there and show everyone that, yeah, we lost to Valpo, but it’s not over. It’s not nearly over.”

Not over, indeed. Not for this season and, certainly, not for the future.

“We’ve got to continue to improve,” Boldon said of his up-and-coming program. “I think that’s something we look for on a daily basis, on a weekly basis and on a yearly basis. We just want to try to get better.”
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