The Youngstown State women's basketball team has lofty expectations of competing for a conference championship and returning to a postseason tournament for the third time in the last four years. The Horizon League preseason poll indicates that external expectations are significantly lower as the Penguins were picked to finish eighth by the league's coaches, sports information directors and media.
"We have a lot to prove this season," YSU head coach John Barnes said. "I feel this team is very hungry to get back to the top portion of the league like we are accustomed to. I see these preseason league predictions as a great motivator for us."
In the poll that was released as part of the Horizon League's Media Day in Detroit, Green Bay was chosen as the preseason favorite with 246 total points and 21 of 25 available first-place votes. Wright State was second with 204 points and the other four first-place votes. They were a clear cut above the rest with 65 points separating the Raiders from third-place Oakland and its 139 points.
From third-place Oakland to eighth-place YSU, there was just a 46-point gap. Following Oakland were Milwaukee (129), Detroit Mercy (126), Cleveland State (117), league newcomer IUPUI (106) and Youngstown State (93). Northern Kentucky was picked ninth with 59 points, and UIC was chosen last with 31 points.
Wright State senior Chelsea Welch was tabbed the Horizon League Preseason Player of the Year, and she was joined on the preseason first team by Ashanti Abshaw (Cleveland State), Brianne Cohen (Detroit Mercy), Jessica Lindstrom (Greem Bay) and Steph Kostowicz (Milwaukee). The preseason second team included Khayla Livingston (Cleveland State), Allie LeClaire (Green Bay), Danielle Lawrence (IUPUI), Taylor Jones (Oakland) and Lexi Smith (Wright State).
Youngstown State has six players on its roster who have averaged at least 10 points per game at the Division I level. In addition to Indiya Benjamin, Mary Dunn and Alison Smolinski, who each averaged double figures in 2016-17, the Penguins return redshirt juniors Nikki Arbanas and Sarah Cash, who averaged 11.3 and 14.1 points, respectively, in 2015-16. Josie Fisher, a transfer guard, averaged 10.4 points as a freshman at Fort Wayne. Dunn was the Horizon League Freshman of the Year last season while Cash was a preseason first-team selection in 2016-17. Benjamin, who has led the league in assists each of the past two years, was a preseason second-team pick last season.