Late-Season Run Highlights 2017-18 Women's Basketball Campaign

Chelsea Olson (Photo by Jose Juarez)
Chelsea Olson (Photo by Jose Juarez)

The Youngstown State women's basketball team had plenty of thrilling plays and made a memorable charge to qualify for its third postseason tournament in four years in 2017-18. The season also saw record-breaking performances and a highlight that was featured on SportsCenter.

Postseason Berth Culminates Strong End to Season

  • Youngstown State earned a spot in the Women's Basketball Invitational for the second time in the last three seasons and its fourth postseason berth since 2012-13. It was the seventh postseason tournament in program history. YSU also played in the NCAA Tournament in 1996, 1998 and 2000; the Women's NIT in 2013 and 2015; and the WBI in 2016.
  • The postseason berth came after the Penguins had their best February in 20 years. YSU was 7-1 in the month to climb from seventh in the Horizon League standings up to a three-way tie for fourth. The strong play began with a Jan. 20 victory at Cleveland State when YSU possessed a 6-12 overall record and a 2-5 mark in Horizon League play. The Penguins won nine of their last 11 games of the regular season and 10 of their final 14 overall.
  • YSU's RPI jumped 113 spots from 267 from Jan. 19 up to 154 at the end of the season. North Carolina A&T was the only program to make a higher climb.

Benjamin, Cash Go Over 1,000 Points

  • Youngstown State had a pair of student-athletes reach 1,000 points during the season. Indiya Benjamin scored her 1,000th point in the second game of the season against Kent State, and Sarah Cash reached the milestone in the second-to-last game versus Green Bay in the Horizon League Tournament.
  • Benjamin finished the season – and her career – with 1,288 points, which ranks 12th in school history. Cash completed the season with 1,017 points, the 19th most by a Penguin.
  • Before Benjamin and Cash in 2017-18, the last time two Penguins reached 1,000 points in the same season was 1999-00 (Brianne Kenneally and Leslie Majewski).

Benjamin Finishes Historic Career

  • Indiya Benjamin finished her history-making tenure as the program's point guard holding career records for assists (629), minutes (3,964), games played (128) and games started (127). The assists record had stood since 1986.
  • Benjamin became just the second player to lead the Horizon League in assists in three straight seasons. She posted a career-high 176 assists in 2017-18, and her 5.5 assists per game were almost a full assist more per game than any other player in the conference. Benjamin was even better in league play with 109 assists in 18 games for an average of 6.1 per contest.
  • Benjamin was voted Second-Team All-Horizon League, and she was named the Coach Ed DiGregorio Most Valuable Player for the second straight season. She is the first YSU guard to be named first or second-team all-league since 1999-00 when the Penguins were members of the Mid-Continent Conference.

Arbanas Breaks 3s Record

  • Nikki Arbanas and Indiya Benjamin took turns breaking YSU's career 3-pointers record, and Arbanas finished as the program's all-time leader with 209. Arbanas, who missed the 2016-17 season with a knee injury, made her 209 3-pointers in just 97 career games.
  • Arbanas made 65 3-pointers this season to become the only player in program history to make at least 50 in three different seasons. She made 55 as a freshman and a school-record 89 as a sophomore. Her 65 3s in 2017-18 came on a career-best .392 3-point field-goal percentage.

A Big Improvement on Defense

  • Youngstown State won seven more games in 2017-18 than in 2016-17, and a big part of that was a significant improvement on the defensive end. The Penguins allowed 10 fewer points per game in 2017-18, dropping from 74.3 points per game to 64.3 points per game.
  • Only three teams in the country improved their scoring defense more from last season than Youngstown State. Illinois State surrendered 13 fewer points per game, Nebraska allowed 12.7 fewer points per contest, and Southeastern Louisiana improved by 10.5 points per game.
  • YSU held 21 of its 32 opponents to 67 points or fewer (plus, American had 64 at the end of regulation). The Penguins allowed at least 68 points in 25 of their 30 games in 2016-17.

Eight Straight Years – 200 3s

  • The Penguins made 276 3-pointers during the season, which second-most in school history. Only the 2015-16 team made more with 299 in 34 games.
  • Youngstown State led the Horizon League in 3-pointers per game for the fourth straight season and for the fifth time in the last seven campaigns. YSU averaged 8.6 3s per contest in 2017-18, which was one more triple per game than second-place Oakland.
  • YSU made at least 200 3-pointers for the eighth straight season. Only 12 other Division I schools have made at least 200 3s in each season since 2010-11.

Olson, Peters Show Great Potential as Freshmen

  • Chelsea Olson and McKenah Peters combined to be named the Horizon League Freshman of the Week five times during the final six weeks of the regular season.
  • Olson went on to be named to the Horizon League All-Freshman team. In conference play among freshmen, Olson ranked first in 3-pointers (33), 3-point FG% (.375), blocks (15) and minutes (30.2); and she was second in scoring (10.1), assists (2.3) and rebounding (5.4). She was the first player to be named the Horizon League Freshman of the Week for four consecutive weeks since the conference instituted the award in 2014-15. For the year, Olson averaged 7.9 points and 4.3 rebounds per contest, and her .388 field-goal percentage was the best among YSU's guards.
  • Peters had a strong close to the regular season by going 14-for-29 from 3-point range over the final seven games. She scored in double figures in both games of the final week of the regular season to help the Penguins secure a pair of wins and the fifth seed in the conference tournament. For the year, Peters averaged 5.1 points and made 34 3-pointers.

Dunn Named Academic All-Horizon League; Penguins Strong Again in Classroom

  • Sophomore forward Mary Dunn was a member of the Horizon League All-Academic Team for her combined success on the court and in the classroom. She averaged 6.8 points and 3.8 rebound while ranking third in the Horizon League with a .547 field-goal percentage. That percentage led the team, and she also paced the Penguins with 27 blocks.
  • As a team, YSU posted a 3.65 grade-point average during the fall semester, and all 16 members of the program had a cumulative GPA of at least 3.0.

Additional Highlights

  • YSU had a good success rate in games decided by five points or fewer, winning six out of seven instances. The Penguins beat Milwaukee and Northern Kentucky twice in games decided by five points or fewer, and they also had close wins over IUPUI and Northern Arizona. YSU's only loss by five points or fewer came at the buzzer at Milwaukee.
  • The Penguins won seven road games in 2017-18, which equaled their total number of road victories in the previous two seasons combined. YSU won its last six Horizon League road contests, setting a record for consecutive conference road wins.
  • Youngstown State had at least three players finish with at least 24 blocks for the first time in program history. Mary Dunn led the squad with 27 blocks, Sarah Cash had 25 and Chelsea Olson finished with 24. The only other time that three players finished with at least 20 was 1989-90.
  • Alison Smolinski broke the school record for consecutive games with a 3-pointer with 27. She made at least one 3 in every game from Dec. 31, 2016, through Dec. 16, 2017. The previous record of 23 was set by Dianne Rappach in 1990-91.
  • Five Penguins finished with at least 25 3-pointers for just the third time in program history. Nikki Arbanas led the club with 65 makes, and she was followed by Indiya Benjamin with 46, Chelsea Olson with 45, McKenah Peters with 34 and Alison Smolinski with 25.
  • Indiya Benjamin's one-handed heave from the opposite 3-point line to beat the first-quarter buzzer against Green Bay made number five on SportsCenter's Top 10.
  • Chelsea Olson nearly had a triple-double with 17 points, 12 rebounds and eight assists at UIC (2/10), and her 26 points at Cleveland State (1/20) were the most by a Horizon League freshman this season.
  • Sarah Cash was named the Horizon League Player of the Week on Dec. 18 after scoring 24 points and hitting the game-winning basket with 4.3 seconds left in YSU's 69-67 win over Northern Arizona.
  • Youngstown State ranked 23rd in the country in 3-pointers per game and 29th in total 3-pointers made.
  • Indiya Benjamin was 31st in the nation with 5.5 assists per game, and her 176 total assists were the 34th-most in the country.