John Barnes came to Youngstown State with a long history of winning, and he has shown in his four 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 will enter his fifth year at YSU in 2017-18.
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 (Women's Basketball Invitational) 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 a 66-61 record through four seasons at Youngstown State. He already has the third-most wins in program history, and his .520 winning percentage is also the third-best mark in program history. Through 11 seasons as a collegiate head coach, he is 222-116 (.657 winning percentage).
Year Four: Setting the Stage for Future Success
The 2016-17 season was riddled with injuries, beginning on the first day of practice when starting guard and top perimeter defender Nikki Arbanas 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. 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 Arbanas and 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. 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 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.
Assembling Talented Recruits
Barnes and his staff has done a notable job of attracting talented recruits to Youngstown State. The 2014 recruiting class included the state player of the year in Michigan and another first-team all-state honoree from Pennsylvania. The 2015 class ranked among the top 25 percent in the country according to two prominent recruiting services. Four of the five players from that class were named First-Team All-Ohio as seniors. The Penguins signed three all-state players from Western Pennsylvania in the fall as part of its 2016 class.
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)