Season In Review: Penguins Set Stage for Future Success in 2016-17

Indiya Benjamin (Photo by Jamie Hall)
Indiya Benjamin (Photo by Jamie Hall)

Injuries to several prominent players allowed many new student-athletes to shine for the Youngstown State women's basketball team in 2016-17. While the Penguins did not qualify for a postseason tournament for the first time in three years, the opportunity for young players to gain a load of experience should help the program in the coming years.

Below is a summary of individual and team highlights achieved by the Penguins this past season:

Individual Highlights

  • Indiya Benjamin had another notable season as a distributor. She became just the fourth player in Horizon League history to lead the conference in assists per game in consecutive seasons. She is the first to do it since 2003-04. She finished with 168 assists in 30 games for a career-high 5.6 assists per game. On the national level, the junior ranked 30th in assists per game and 45th in total assists.
  • Benjamin's 168 assists ranked as the fifth-most in program history, and she had the most assists ever by a YSU junior. Benjamin became the eighth player in program history to record 400 career assists, and she finished the season with 453. She will enter her senior year 120 assists shy of Danielle Carson's school record.
  • As a scorer, Benjamin moved into the top 20 in program history in career points with 972. She averaged a career-high 11.6 points per game, and she will begin her senior year 28 points shy of becoming the 19th Penguin to score 1,000 points.
  • Morgan Brunner made 22 3-pointers in Horizon League play and was named the Horizon League Freshman of the Week on Jan. 17.
  • Mary Dunn was voted the Horizon League Freshman of the Year as she led all conference freshmen with 11.3 points per game and a .514 field-goal percentage. She was named the Horizon League Freshman of the Week a conference-high four times.
  • Dunn scored in double figures in 17 of her 28 games, including nine straight contests from Dec. 6 to Jan. 14. She scored a season-high 21 points against Point Park, which was the most by a YSU freshman post since 2011.
  • Senior Jenna Hirsch set the school record for games played with 125 over her four years. Seven of those contests came in postseason tournaments. She set career highs in assists per game and assist-to-turnover ratio, and she ranked fourth in the Horizon League with her 1.6 assist-to-turnover ratio. Hirsch finished her career with 318 assists and 118 3-pointers, which both rank among the top 20 in program history.
  • Mailee Jones was named to the All-Tournament Team at the Bank of Hawaii Classic as she averaged 15 points and shot 50 percent from the field in two games against Hawaii and Sacramento State.
  • Alison Smolinski emerged as one of the premier shooters in the Horizon League in her sophomore year. She led the conference with 85 3-pointers overall and 61 in Horizon League play. She shot an efficient 39.7 percent from beyond the arc, which ranked fourth in the conference. On the national level, Smolinski ranked 19th in Division I in 3s per game and 40th in total 3s. From Jan. 14 through the end of YSU's season on March 3, she made 63 3-pointers in 15 games. That was more than any other player in the country during that span.
  • In league play, Smolinski averaged 15.6 points, which ranked seventh in the conference, while making 3.8 3s per game and shooting 43.3 percent from beyond the arc. She made 14 more 3s than any other player in league play despite missing two games and three quarters of another. She was the only player to score at least 30 points twice during conference play.
  • In the YSU record book, Smolinski set a program record for 3-pointers per game with 3.0 per contest. Her 85 3-pointers were the third-most in program history, behind Nikki Arbanas' 89 in 2015-16 and Heather Karner's 87 in 2007-08. Smolinski played three fewer games than Karner did and six fewer than Arbanas did. Smolinski tied a single-game record by making eight 3-pointers against Cleveland State on Jan. 16, and she made at least five 3s in a game six times. She concluded the season by making six 3s against Valparaiso in the conference, which was the most ever by a Penguin in 21 Horizon League Tournament contests.
  • Melinda Trimmer had a solid end to her sophomore season by averaging 7.2 points and 2.5 assists over the Penguins' final 13 games. She had 42 points in the first 44 games of her career before scoring 94 in the final 13 contests of 2016-17. She set career highs for points, assists and rebounds during that final stretch.
  • Kelley Wright went 10-for-10 from the free-throw line in the season opener against American, becoming just the eighth player in school history to go at least 10-for-10 in a game. Wright more than doubled her previous career highs in points per game (5.8), assists per game (1.4) and rebounds per game (3.5).

Team Highlights

  • YSU had a memorable six-day trip to Hawaii for the Bank of Hawaii Classic in November. Among the highlights of the trip, the Penguins went snorkeling at Hanauma Bay, enjoyed the Paradise Cove Luau and toured Pearl Harbor.
  • Youngstown State ranked second in the Horizon League in average home attendance with 1,686 fans. The Penguins have been in the top two in attendance in each of the 16 years they have been in the conference. YSU's average attendance of 1,686 at Beeghly Center was its highest since the 2003-04 season.
  • The Penguins finished the season with 254 3-pointers, surpassing 200 for the seventh consecutive season. YSU is one of only 16 teams in the country to make at least 200 in each season since 2010-11.
  • YSU led the Horizon League in 3-pointers per game for the third straight year and the fourth time in the last six years. The Penguins averaged 8.5 3s per game for the season and 9.5 during conference play. They made 26 more triples than any other team in league games.
  • Youngstown State ranked second in the Horizon League in free-throw percentage (.773) and assist-to-turnover ratio (1.1), and it was third in assists per contest (15.5).
  • On the national level, YSU ranked 14th in Division in free-throw percentage, and it was 15th in 3s per game and 29th in total 3-pointers.
  • YSU had three players average at least 11 points per game for the first time since 1998-99. Alison Smolinski led the team with 12.5 points per contest, Indiya Benjamin averaged 11.6 points and Mary Dunn averaged 11.3 points. Smolinski was the first guard to lead the Penguins in scoring since Heather Karner in 2007-08.
  • The Penguins were strong in the post once again as three different post players scored at least 20 points in a game during the year. Sarah Cash scored 29 points against Tiffin, Mary Dunn had 21 versus Point Park and Morgan Olson scored 20 versus Milwaukee. Dunn was named the Horizon League Freshman of the Year to mark the eighth straight season in which a YSU post earned Horizon League honors.
  • With season-ending injuries to four players, the Penguins used 14 different starting lineups in their 30-game season. Three YSU freshmen – Dunn, Mailee Jones and Natalie Myers – started against Sacramento State. It was the first time that three freshmen were in the starting five since the 2008-09 season. There were 15 Penguins who played this season, and 13 of them started at least one game.
  • Youngstown State had its highest scoring game in 19 years when it beat Sacramento State 102-94 on Nov. 20 in Hawaii. The 102 points tied for the 10th-most in program history, and it was the first 100-point game by the Penguins since Jan. 31, 1998. Six players in double figures in the same game for the first time since 2000.
  • The Penguins showed that they were still competitive despite the injuries. In eight of their Horizon League losses, the score was within four points in the fourth period.