Nikki Arbanas, Morgan Olson, Krista Pietropola and Kelley Wright have signed a National Letter of Intent to continue their academic and basketball careers at Youngstown State University under head coach John Barnes.
Arbanas (Hermitage, Pa.), Pietropola (Plum, Pa.) and Wright (Hessel, Mich.) are guards while Olson (Nappanee, Ind.) is a forward. All four come from highly successful high school programs.
"We're extremely excited about our 2013-14 class," Barnes said. "We brought in a lot of size and a lot of very smart, high IQ players. We're looking for hard-nosed, tough, blue-collar players. There is a toughness about this area, and I think those type of kids will fit in here. I think the fans will relate to those types of players. You can win a lot of games with them."
While Barnes and his staff used their connections throughout the Midwest by recruiting Olson in Northern Indiana and Wright in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, Barnes said signing Arbanas and Pietropola from within 75 miles of campus was key.
"We want to establish ourselves very well in the immediate area. When Coach DiGregorio was here and won a lot of championships and went to NCAA Tournaments, he did it with a lot of players within an hour to an hour-and-a-half from Youngstown. Obviously he's a great mentor and someone to lean on and did things the right way," Barnes said.
Barnes also said recruiting players with winning backgrounds was a point of emphasis as he builds the program into a perennial Horizon League contender.
"Normally the case is if they come from a winning background they have good coaching. They know how to win and what it takes to win. You don't have to teach them all of that. You want kids that have that drive to be the best and do whatever it takes to win," he said.
Arbanas, a 5-foot-9 guard from who plays at Hickory High School, which is located 20 miles from YSU's campus. She scored a team-high 471 points as a junior, averaging 18.2 points and 2.8 assists with a high-scoring game of 31 points against Oil City. She led Hickory to a 21-5 record and a spot in the PIAA Class AAA playoffs. Arbanas made five 3-pointers and finished with 22 points in the playoff loss to South Park. She helped the Hornets to a spot in the District 10 Class AAA semifinals as a sophomore.
"Nikki's a very tough, hard-nosed point guard who is a leader," Barnes said. "Those are the type of things we look for and what we want in our future."
Olson is a 6-foot forward who plays at NorthWood High School, which is approximately 30 miles southeast of South Bend, Ind. Olson is a three-time first-team all-conference selection and has led the Panthers in scoring and rebounding in each of her first three seasons. She averaged 19.9 points and was fifth in the state in rebounding as a junior. She registered 16 double-doubles while scoring 30 points twice and grabbing 16 rebounds on four occasions. She was invited to Indiana's Top 100 Underclassmen Showcase, was named to the IBCA Underclassman All-State First Team and was an Indiana Elite 3A Junior All-Star selection. She was also named the Most Outstanding Player at the Indiana Class Basketball All-Star Classic. NorthWood is currently ranked fourth this season in Class 3A in Indiana.
"Morgan is a power forward who has a great touch around the basket," Barnes said. "She can finish with contact, and she can also step out and shoot. She's establishing her 3-point range more as she gets older."
Pietropola is a 6-foot guard who plays at Plum High School in Pittsburgh. She averaged 16.8 points and seven rebounds as a junior in leading the Mustangs to a 17-6 record and a spot in the WPIAL playoffs. Those 17 wins were the most at the school since at least 1983-84. She was named to the Post-Gazette's East Fabulous Five as a junior for her efforts, and she enters her senior year with 998 points in her career. She has been the runner-up for the WPIAL scoring lead in the last two years, and she is a three-time first-team all-section honoree. ESPN rated her as a three-star recruit and the 75th-best player in the country at her position. Pietropola also finished 13th in the state in the high jump during track and field season.
"Krista is a 6-foot athlete who can really run," Barnes said. "She can shoot the 3 already, she can attack the basket, and she has a nice pull-up for her size."
Wright is a 5-foot-11 guard at St. Ignace LaSalle High School located in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. She averaged 20.1 points, 7.1 rebounds and 5.1 assists as a junior for the Class D state championship team. In Wright's three years, the Saints are 78-2, have won the state title twice and advanced to the semifinals another time. She has scored as many as 40 points in a game and connected on an Upper Peninsula record nine 3-pointers in a contest against Sault High. Over a three-game stretch this past January, she averaged 31 points, 10 steals, 5.7 rebounds and 4.7 assists. As a junior she was a unanimous Class D Associated Press All-State selection, an All-U.P Dream Team honoree and the Straits Area Conference Player of the Year.
"I've known Kelley since she was a young player coming to basketball camps," said Barnes, who is also a native of the Upper Peninsula. "She's a 5-foot-10 guard who can really run the floor, handle the ball, has a very high IQ and can shoot the three. She's won two state championships. She's a winner, and that's a big thing."
Youngstown State went 23-10 last season with a runner-up finish in the Horizon League and a berth in the WNIT. Barnes is in his first year as the program's head coach.