Shortly after Bob Boldon told program supporters and the news media that becoming Youngstown State's head women's basketball coach was a dream opportunity, a reporter asked him how confident he was in his abilities to turn the program around.
Boldon's response was simple, direct and convincing. "Very," he said.
Two years into Boldon’s tenure, the program has shown definite signs that it is headed in the right direction.
Boldon, a Northeast Ohio native, inherited a proud program that was among the nation's top mid-majors during the 1990s. The Penguins won 196 games and went to the NCAA Tournament three times during that decade, and Boldon has his sights set on at least matching that success.
From the first day he was on the job, Boldon has not detracted from the task he's been assigned - turning a program that stumbled for most of the 2000s and went 0-30 the year prior to his arrival into a Horizon League contender. Behind a motion offense that is geared toward shooting open 3-pointers and driving for lay-ups, YSU has become a very dangerous team in the conference just two seasons into his regime. The Penguins convincingly beat second-place Detroit in 2011-12 and took the other teams that finished in the top four to overtime. One of those teams was Green Bay, which finished the season 31-2 and was ranked No. 11 in the nation when YSU lost a heartbreaker in overtime.
|Year Before Boldon's Arrival||Boldon's Second Season|
|Points Per Game||48.6||64.6|
Evidence of Improvement
Perhaps the most obvious indicator of YSU’s improvement is its scoring margin. The year prior to Boldon’s arrival, YSU lost games by an average of 25.8 points and lost 16 Horizon League games by double digits. In 2011-12, YSU’s average margin of defeat was one possession - 2.9 points. That is a 22.9-point improvement from what Boldon inherited. To support what the numbers show, Boldon received votes for Horizon League Coach of the Year from his coaching peers in 2011-12.
Most importantly, Boldon has created a feeling in the locker room and in the stands that had not existed for years prior to his arrival - the Penguins can win every time they step onto the court.
The 2011-12 campaign was YSU’s best on the offensive end in several seasons. The Penguins’ 38.4 percent field-goal shooting was its best in six years, and their 33.7 percent shooting from 3-point range was its highest in seven years. Their scoring average of 64.6 points was the highest in 10 years and 18 points higher than it was the year prior to Boldon arrived.
YSU showed a definite improvement on the road in Boldon’s second season. After having just one road win combined in the past three seasons, and the Penguins had six in 2011-12. They won five straight road games for the first time since the 1997-98 season, and they won five straight non-conference road games for the first time in school history.
The Penguins started to really show signs of their development at the end of Boldon’s first campaign in 2010-11. They won three of their final seven games, which matched the program’s win total from the previous two seasons combined. YSU also had shots in the final 20 seconds in three of those losses that would have tied the game, including one in the opening round of the Horizon League Tournament. The Guins shot better than their season field-goal percentage in 15 of its final 18 games. They upped their scoring average by 9.9 points and made 205 3-pointers despite not being rich with outside shooters.
The most telling stat of Boldon’s immediate impact was YSU’s improved scoring margin. With only one different starter and largely the same roster as the year prior to Boldon’s arrival, YSU improved its scoring margin from minus-25.8 to minus-10.6. That 15.2-point improvement was the second-best in the country.
Setting 3-Point Records
With Boldon on the bench, YSU has broken almost every one of the program’s 3-point shooting records. In 2011-12, the Penguins set school and Horizon League records in 3-pointers made (275) and attempts (828) for the season, and their 16 3-pointers at Loyola set a new school mark and tied the league record. YSU made 188 3-pointers during conference play, which shattered the previous Horizon League record by 58. The Penguins finished the season ranking fifth in the nation with 9.2 3-pointers made per game, and they were one of just 10 teams in the country to make at least 16 3-pointers in a game during the year.
In Boldon’s two seasons at the helm, Brandi Brown has developed from a promising low-post player to one of the best combo players in YSU’s history. She has earned Second-Team All-Horizon League honors in each of the last two seasons and is on her way to finishing among the top three in school history in both points and rebounds. She was a Horizon League All-Newcomer Team pick as a freshman in 2009-10 when she averaged 11.4 points and 10.6 rebounds playing almost exclusively on the low block. Boldon unharnessed her, and Brown has averaged 17.9 points in his system. After not attempting a 3-pointer as a freshman, Brown has made 71 buckets from beyond the arc her last two seasons.
Brown had one of the best seasons in school history as a sophomore. Boldon's spread-motion offense allowed Brown to set up on the wing, and she was able to drive past slower defenders and shoot over smaller ones. Brown finished the regular season as the league's top scorer, becoming just the third player in school history to capture a conference scoring title. Brown averaged 19.9 points overall, one of the top 20 averages in the country, and 22.6 points during league play. She followed that up by averaging 15.9 points and 9.3 rebounds as YSU got better contribution throughout the lineup. The high-point of her junior season came when she became the 17th player in YSU history to score 1,000 career points on Nov. 25 at Loyola Marymount. Brown reached 1,000 points in her 65th career game, which is the third-fastest in school history.
Kenya Middlebrooks may have shown an even bigger improvement, developing from a driving guard to one of the best 3-point shooters in the Horizon League. As a senior in 2011-12, Middlebrooks made 76 3-pointers for a Horizon League-leading 2.5 treys per game. In the first 66 games of Middlebrooks’ career - her first two seasons and six games under Boldon - she made 0.4 3-pointers per game and shot 20.1 percent from beyond the arc. In her final 54 contests - all under Boldon - she averaged 2.5 3-pointers and shot 36.5 percent from distance. Middlebrooks was one of four YSU players who ranked in the top five in the Horizon League in 3-point field-goal percentage during league play in 2011-12.
Not only upperclassmen have shown prowess from beyond the arc in Boldon’s system. In his two years on campus, three different freshmen have made at least 25 3-pointers. Only four YSU freshmen had made at least 25 since the 3-point arc was instituted for the 1986-87 season. Liz Hornberger and Monica Touvelle both surpassed 25 as freshmen in 2010-11, and Heidi Schlegel sank 27 as a redshirt freshman in 2011-12. Touvelle doubled her output to 53 with another year in Boldon’s system under her belt, and her 40.2 percent effort from 3-point range was third-best in the conference.
YSU’s players have developed in plenty of other places in addition to 3-point shooting. Point guard Macey Nortey led the Horizon League with a 1.54 assist-to-turnover ratio, which was a big improvement from the 0.83 ratio she registered the year prior to Boldon’s arrival. Melissa Thompson increased her scoring total by more than seven times from her freshman year to her sophomore year, going from 18 points to 128 in 2011-12. Tieara Jones led the conference in blocks with 1.3 per game in Boldon’s first year, and Kelsea Fickiesen adjusted quickly to the college game in 2011-12 to become the first freshman guard in school history to lead the team in field-goal percentage.
In the Classroom and the Community
The Penguins have also had highlights in the classroom and the community during Boldon’s tenure. The team posted a combined GPA of 3.51 during the 2011 fall semester, and four players earned a perfect 4.0. In the 2010-11 academic year, the program was recognized on the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association Top 25 Team Honor Roll for the first time in school history. The Penguins had a combined GPA of 3.395 during the year, which ranked 17th in the poll. On the individual level, Brandi Brown earned Academic All-Horizon League honors in 2010-11. She was the first Penguin to earn conference academic accolades in three seasons.
Through its reading program, the team read to approximately 3,500 second through fifth graders at 11 different schools in the Youngstown area in Boldon’s second season. Other community service projects included serving at the Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church spaghetti dinner in Youngstown, walking in a non-violence parade, participating in the Holiday Parade and Tree Lighting ceremony downtown, and donating soap, shampoo and canned food to struggling families and a homeless shelter.
A History of Success on the Bench
Boldon came to Youngstown with an outstanding resume as a player and an impressive track record as a collegiate coach for 13 seasons. He was introduced as the sixth head coach in school history on April 14, 2010. Prior to his arrival, Boldon spent three successful seasons as a collegiate head coach and 10 years as a college assistant. Five of those 10 years were at the Division I level, including two seasons at Akron. Two of the coaches he worked with – Jerry Scheve and Karl Smesko – have been voted national coaches of the year.
In his most recent head coaching stint prior to YSU, Boldon orchestrated the best season in school history at Lambuth University, an NAIA school located in Jackson, Tenn. He led the Eagles in 2008-09 to school bests with 29 wins, a final No. 3 national ranking and an .853 winning percentage. Lambuth was the runner-up for the national title, and Boldon was recognized as the Association of Independent Institutions Coach of the Year after the regular season and A.I.I. tournament.
At the University of Arkansas at Monticello, Boldon showed he can rebuild a program as he helped lead a major improvement for the Division II Cotton Blossoms in the Gulf South Conference. He inherited a team that went 1-15 in GSC play the year prior to his arrival, and he immediately brought them up to an 8-8 mark, which was the school's best conference record in five years. In his two seasons at UAM, the Cotton Blossoms finished third in the GSC each year, made consecutive conference tournament appearances and earned the school's first conference tournament victory since 1998.
Although Boldon was an assistant coach at seven different institutions, he served with only three head coaches and moved along with them as they received better opportunities. He spent four seasons with Smesko, the current head women's basketball coach at Florida Gulf Coast University, and five with Jodi Kest, who is the head coach at Akron.
Boldon and Smesko teamed up for a combined record of 85-34 over four seasons, which includes one year at FGCU, two years at IPFW and another at Walsh.
In 2009-10, FGCU went 24-7 and earned an invitation to compete in the WNIT. The Eagles were 17-3 in the Atlantic Sun and went a perfect 14-0 in home contests. Boldon and Smesko were part of a massive rebuilding project at IPFW as the Mastadons competed at the Division II level. IPFW was 2-24 the season before Boldon arrived on campus, and the Mastadons went 13-14 and 19-8 in the two years he was on the bench. Boldon and Smesko first worked together in 1997-98 at Boldon's alma mater, Walsh. The Cavaliers won the NAIA Division II National Championship that season behind a 29-5 record, and Smesko was recognized as the national coach of the year with Boldon's assistance. That Walsh team was part of the 2012 Ohio Basketball Hall of Fame induction class.
With Kest, Boldon was the top assistant coach at Akron for two seasons from 2006 to 2008. There, he helped lay the foundation for Akron to be competitive again in the Mid-American Conference. The Zips had won eight games combined in the two years before Boldon and Kest arrived on campus, and they won 10 games in the first season with Boldon on board. With some of Boldon's recruits, Akron went 18-14 in 2009-10 and advanced to the MAC Tournament semifinals.
Boldon also spent two seasons with Kest at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi from 2002 to 2004, leading the Islanders to a combined 34-21 record as a Division I Independent. Boldon and Kest first worked together at Gannon in 2001-02 when the Lady Knights went 20-8 and advanced to the NCAA Tournament.
Boldon was an assistant at Wilmington College with Jerry Scheve in 1998-99, helping to lead the Quakers to a 20-4 record and regular season and tournament titles.
Playing and Personal Life
Boldon, a 36-year-old native of Louisville, Ohio, graduated from Walsh in 1997 with a bachelor's degree in elementary education. As a student-athlete, he was a two-time All-America selection as a point guard and helped lead the Cavaliers to the Final Four of the NAIA Tournament. A four-year starter, he remains the school record holder in assists (775) while also ranking fourth in scoring with 1,694 points. Boldon was a 2008 inductee to Walsh's Wall of Fame, and his accomplishments were celebrated as one of the program’s top 50 players in its 50-year history in 2012.
He earned his master's degree in liberal studies from Indiana in 2003.