John Barnes came to Youngstown State with a long history of winning, and he has shown in his five seasons that he has the ability and energy to build the Penguins women's basketball program into a perennial contender in the Horizon League and a regular postseason participant. The seventh head coach in program history, Barnes completed his fifth year at YSU in 2017-18.
Barnes’ squads have been extremely successful both on and off the court at Youngstown State. YSU has earned a postseason berth in three of his five seasons while also appearing on the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association Academic Top 25 Team Honor Roll three times.
Most recently in 2017-18, Youngstown State had its best February in 20 years to become postseason eligible. The Penguins won nine of their final 11 games of the regular season, advanced to the semifinals of the Horizon League Tournament and earned a spot in the Women’s Basketball Invitational in Barnes’ fifth season. YSU finished with a 16-16 record and improved its win total by seven from the previous year.
YSU won 21 games and advanced to a postseason tournament in consecutive years for the first time in school history under Barnes’ leadership. In 2016, the Penguins reached the semifinals of the WBI following wins over Stony Brook and UMBC. In 2015, YSU advanced to the Women’s NIT for just the second time in program history. In addition to the on-court success, YSU had the third-best GPA in Division I in 2015-16.
Barnes, a tireless recruiter and a detail-oriented teacher, owns an 82-77 record through four seasons at Youngstown State. He has the third-most wins in program history, and his .516 winning percentage is also the third-best mark in program history. Through 12 seasons as a collegiate head coach, he is 238-132 (.643 winning percentage).
Year Five: Veterans Lead Team Back to Postseason
Youngstown State entered the 2017-18 season out to prove that playing in the postseason was the program’s standard, and it overcame early adversity to finish 16-16 and earn its second WBI bid in the last three seasons. The Penguins played their best down the stretch, posting their best February in 20 years by going 7-1 in the month.
YSU won nine of its final 11 contests of the regular season to climb from seventh place in the Horizon League up to a three-way tie for fourth in the final standings. The Penguins set a school record for consecutive conference road victories by winning their final six Horizon League road contests of the season. The Penguins also advanced to the semifinals of the conference tournament for the third time under Barnes. By the end of the season, YSU’s RPI had jumped 113 spots from Jan. 19, which was the second-best improvement in the country over that span.
A significant improvement on the defensive end of the floor was a big part of YSU winning seven more games than in 2016-17. The Penguins had the fourth-best improvement in the country in scoring defense from 2016-17 to 2017-18 as they held opponents to 64.3 points per contest. On the offensive end, YSU led the Horizon League in 3-pointers for the fourth straight season with 276.
Strong play from an experienced group of upperclassmen keyed the Penguins’ return to the postseason. Point guard Indiya Benjamin finished her history-making career by finishing as the program’s all-time leader in assists (629), minutes (3,964), games played (128) and games started (127). She was named Second-Team All-Horizon League and became just the second player to lead the league in assists in three straight seasons. Benjamin and Sarah Cash both surpassed 1,000 career points during the season, and Cash was the team’s top scorer and rebounder for the second time in three years. Nikki Arbanas returned after an ACL injury to made a team-high 65 3-pointers and break the program’s career mark with 209 in just three seasons. Mary Dunn led the squad with a .547 field-goal percentage and was named Academic All-Horizon League.
The Penguins also got a huge boost from a talented group of freshmen in 2017-18. Chelsea Olson was named to the Horizon League All-Freshman Team and was the first player in conference history to be named the league Freshman of the Week for four straight weeks. She averaged 10.1 points, 5.4 rebounds and 2.3 assists against league opponents. McKenah Peters was the Horizon League Freshman of the Week the final week of the regular season, and she had a strong end to the regular season by going 14-for-29 from 3-point range over the final seven games.
Year Four: Setting the Stage for Future Success
The 2016-17 season was riddled with injuries, beginning on the first day of practice when Nikki Arbanas, a starting guard and the team's top perimeter defender, tore her ACL. Another ACL injury to fifth-year senior guard Kelsea Newman came in the third quarter of the first game of the season, and all-conference forward Sarah Cash missed the final 23 games with ongoing knee pain. While YSU’s win total dropped to nine, a large group of underclassmen showed they can contribute as the Penguins return to full strength in 2017-18.
Youngstown State led the Horizon League in 3-pointers per game for the third straight year and made at least 200 for the seventh straight season in 2016-17. That was an impressive feat with Arbanas and Newman, who combined for 143 triples the previous year, out for the season. The Penguins’ solid guard play also led to the squad being ranked second in assist-to-turnover ratio and third in assists per game. On the national level, YSU ranked 14th in free-throw percentage and 15th in 3s per game.
Individually, freshman Mary Dunn and sophomore Alison Smolinski emerged as players who could take over a game offensively. Dunn was named the Horizon League Freshman of the Year, leading all conference freshmen with 11.3 points per game and a .514 field-goal percentage. It marked the eighth straight season that a YSU post earned Horizon League honors. Smolinski led the conference with 85 3-pointers overall and 61 in league play. She ranked 19th in the country in 3s per game, and she made more triples than any other player in the nation between Jan. 14 through the end of YSU’s season on March 3. Team MVP Indiya Benjamin led the Horizon League in assists for the second straight season, and will enter her senior year with an opportunity to break YSU’s career records for assists and 3-pointers.
Year Three: Another 21 Wins and Two WBI Victories
The 2015-16 campaign showed the grit and determination of the program under Barnes' guidance. With nine of the 12 players on the roster being freshmen or sophomores and starting four underclassmen in 26 games, YSU finished 21-13 and advanced to the semifinals of the WBI.
Having the resilience to battle back from deficits was a major theme for YSU in 2015-16. The Guins trailed by at least eight in eight of their victories, and they were down by as many as 14 points four times in wins. The Penguins won in the final five seconds five times in 2015-16.
Youngstown State set a new school record for 3-pointers in a season with 299 in 2015-16, surpassing the previous mark of 275 that was set in 2011-12. Nikki Arbanas set the individual record with 89 makes, and YSU ranked 12th in the country with 8.8 3-pointers per game. The Penguins also guarded the 3-point line well as they ranked 12th in the country in 3-point field-goal percentage defense.
The season also saw the emergence of Sarah Cash, who developed from a walkon the previous year to a Second-Team All-Horizon League selection. Cash became the first player in school history to lead the team in points, rebounds, steals and blocks in the same season. She ranked fourth in the country and set a YSU record for field-goal percentage at .600.
Barnes achieved a personal milestone as well during the season as he celebrated the 200th victory of his career when the Penguins beat Salem International on Dec. 14.
After the season, Youngstown State was recognized by the WBCA by having the third-best grade point average in the country at 3.64. It was the fifth time in the last six years that the Penguins had one of the 25-best GPAs in Division I.
Year Two: 21 Wins and a WNIT Berth
In Barnes’ second year, Youngstown State reached the WNIT for just the second time in the program's history. The Penguins won their first 10 games for the first time at the Division I level, and they finished with a 21-11 record for the program's second 20-win season in the last three years. Along with those notable accomplishments on the court, Youngstown State appeared on the WBCA Academic Top 25 Team Honor Roll in 2014-15 for having a 3.422 GPA, which was the 22nd-best mark of all Division I teams in the country.
The Penguins broke several team records in Barnes' second year while playing with seven true freshmen, the most in the Horizon League and in Ohio. YSU set a new standard with 11 non-conference victories, and Nikki Arbanas and Indiya Benjamin helped the Penguins set new school records for assist-to-turnover ratio and fewest turnovers per game as freshmen. Additionally, Youngstown State had its best marks in points per possession, scoring margin and free-throw percentage in 17 years.
Among the individual highlights in Barnes' second year, senior Heidi Schlegel finished up one of the top two-year stretches in school history. She became just the fifth player in school history to earn first-team all-conference honors twice, and she finished her career with 1,729 points, the fourth-most in school history, and 796 rebounds, the seventh-most in school history. Schlegel signed a professional contract to play in Germany following her senior year.
There were plenty of other individual highlights in 2014-15. Arbanas set a YSU freshman record with 55 3-pointers, which was also the most by any freshman in the conference. Benjamin was voted to the Horizon League All-Freshman Team, and Newman tied the school record for 3-pointers by a sophomore. Senior Latisha Walker had the best year of her career and finished with 49 blocks in 2014-15, the third-most in program history.
Year One: Tournament Semifinals in Season of Growth
Barnes set a new school record for wins by a first-year head coach with 15 during the 2013-14 season. He led an overachieving Penguins squad to a third-place finish in the Horizon League and a berth in the conference tournament semifinals for the second straight season. YSU won its first six league games to match its best start ever to conference play and finished 10-6, which was its second-best record since joining the Horizon League in 2001. The Penguins became just the second league team in the past 16 years to sweep conference champion Green Bay.
Barnes' influence was very noticeable on the offensive end as the Penguins had their best performance in more than a decade. Barnes' group was the highest scoring offense at YSU since 1999-2000 with an average of 70.3 points per game. Additionally, they had their best rebounding advantage in 19 years.
Several student-athletes flourished in Barnes' offense. Heidi Schlegel was among the Horizon League's most-improved players, doubling her previous scoring average and earning first-team all-conference accolades. She averaged 20 points and eight rebounds and set a new school record for made free throws. Liz Hornberger had her best season and averaged a Horizon League-leading 3.1 3-pointers per game during conference play. She made 80 3-pointers during the season and finished her career with a then-school-record 199 treys. Another 3-point specialist, Monica Touvelle, was named the Horizon League's Sixth Player of the Year, and guard Jenna Hirsch was named to the league's all-freshman team.
The program had a 3.46 cumulative GPA in the 2013 fall semester, which was the second-highest GPA of any team on campus. Hornberger and Schlegel were both voted Academic All-Horizon League, giving the Penguins two honorees for the first time.
Before Youngstown State
Barnes came to YSU with 17 years of coaching experience at the collegiate level and had won more than 70 percent of the games he'd coached. Barnes spent the previous season serving as associate head coach at Green Bay and the previous two seasons as an assistant in the Big Ten. He led Division II Michigan Tech to 156 wins and five appearances in the NCAA Tournament as the Huskies' head coach from 2003-10.
Experience at Division I
In his most recent stop before coming to Youngstown State, Barnes was the associate head coach under Kevin Borseth at Green Bay as the Phoenix won the Horizon League regular season and tournament titles in 2012-13. Green Bay finished 29-2 and was ranked in the top 20 in both the Associated Press and USA Today Coaches polls. The Phoenix allowed 49 points per game in 2012-13, which was the second-fewest in the country.
Barnes also coached with Borseth at Michigan in 2011-12 and helped lead the Wolverines to just their fourth 20-win season in school history and their first at-large berth into the NCAA Tournament in 11 years. Barnes helped lead Wisconsin to the second round of the Women's National Invitational Tournament and a third-place finish in the Big Ten in 2010-11, which was his first at the Division I level.
As an assistant, Barnes had a hand in signing Wisconsin's Miss Basketball at Green Bay, Michigan's Miss Basketball at Michigan and the Michigan Miss Basketball runner-up at Wisconsin.
Building a Powerhouse at his Alma Mater
Prior to joining Wisconsin's staff, Barnes spent seven seasons leading one of the top Division II programs in the country at Michigan Tech, his alma mater. The Huskies went 156-55 in his seven campaigns, qualified for the NCAA Tournament five times and won the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Tournament three times. Michigan Tech advanced to the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament in each of his last two seasons, and Barnes culminated his career by being named the WBCA Region Coach of the Year in 2009-10. The Huskies went 31-3 that season, setting school records for wins and winning percentage while being ranked No. 1 in the country for seven weeks.
Barnes was named the GLIAC Coach of the Year in each of his final three seasons at Michigan Tech. At Michigan Tech, Barnes recruited and developed the only First-Team All-American in school history, two GLIAC Players of the Year and two Academic All-Americans. The Huskies' team grade-point average ranked in the top five nationally four times in his seven seasons.
Before becoming the head women's coach at Michigan Tech, he spent six years on the men's staff at the Houghton, Mich., campus as an assistant coach. Barnes played an integral role in building the men's program into national prominence as the Huskies went 133-48 while winning the GLIAC North Division four times and making four NCAA Tournament appearances. In 2002-03, his final season on the men's staff, Michigan Tech went 29-3 overall, captured GLIAC regular season and tournament titles and was ranked atop the national poll for a period.
Barnes grew up in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula in Escanaba as part of a large family. He has a twin brother, and the two are the youngest of 12 children. Barnes’ father and an older brother were both basketball coaches.
Barnes was a four-year member of the men's basketball team at Michigan Tech from 1991-95 and earned a spot on the GLIAC All-Defensive Team as a senior. He got his start as a collegiate coach as an assistant at Lake Superior State in 1995-96, helping the Lakers win the GLIAC North Division. Barnes spent a year overseas serving as a player-coach for the St. Nicolai Basketball Club in Denmark in 1996-97 before starting his six-year stint at his alma mater.
Barnes graduated from Michigan Tech in 1995 with a bachelor's degree in scientific and technical communication.
2013-Present — Youngstown State Head Coach
2012-13 — Green Bay Associate Head Coach
2011-12 — Michigan Assistant Coach
2010-11 — Wisconsin Assistant Coach
2003-10 — Michigan Tech Head Coach
1997-03 — Michigan Tech Assistant (Men’s)
1996-97 — St. Nicolai Basketball Club (Denmark) Player Coach
1995-96 — Lake Superior St. Assistant (Men’s)