A season bursting with optimism began on Monday in Beeghly Center as the Youngstown State women's basketball team held its first full team practice in preparation for the 2017-18 season.
The team squeezed in two hours of practice between classes. The Penguins began with a series of ball-handling drills led by new assistant coach Courtney Davidson and moved on to defending various screening actions, skill work, closeouts and the shell drill.
"Our focus every year is on mental toughness and taking care of the little things because those will win you games," YSU head coach John Barnes said. "I told the team we need to work hard for each other and that everything we do needs to be for the team. I think we've laid a great foundation in the summer and in the early fall workouts. If we can continue putting in the energy and we stay healthy, we think we can be really good this season."
The Penguins opened camp with 16 players on the roster – three seniors, five juniors, three sophomores and five freshmen. Alison Smolinski (12.5 points per game), Indiya Benjamin (11.6 ppg) and Mary Dunn (11.3 ppg) return after averaging double figures in 2016-17.
But looking at last year's stat sheet doesn't tell the full story of the optimism in 2017-18. Nikki Arbanas, who averaged 11.3 points in 2015-16, is back after missing all of last season with a knee injury, and leading scorer from two years ago Sarah Cash (14.1 ppg) joins her after being limited to eight games in 2016-17. That gives the Penguins five returning players who have averaged at least 10 points for the first time in program history.
Add in junior Josie Fisher, who averaged 10.4 points as a freshman at Fort Wayne, and several talented freshmen who could play prominently, and the Penguins have an impressive list of options on offense.
The Penguins will tip off the season in 39 days on Nov. 10 at Pittsburgh.