Hopeless hoops? Youngstown State women are 0-28
Macey Nortey is a ball of pure energy on the court, zigzagging
through defenders with a nice, fluid dribbling style before
squeaking to a halt and zipping the ball to an open teammate.
When Youngstown State’s point guard took the floor to face
Wisconsin-Green Bay on Thursday night, she was a full eight inches
shorter than the player who was guarding her.
Working hard, but simply not measuring up – that’s the story of
the season for Youngstown State.
The misery keeps piling up for the Penguins, who fell to 0-28
after Thursday’s 84-45 loss. And if they don’t win their
regular-season finale at Wisconsin-Milwaukee on Saturday or a
first-round game in the Horizon League tournament, they’ll become
the ninth women’s team to go winless for a season in the past 10
years, according to STATS LLC.
“They have a lot of spirit and energy still, for the season
that they’re going through,” Green Bay forward Kayla Tetschlag
said. “And I definitely respect that. I just wish them luck. They
seem down, but I think they’re still trying. They’re still going to
finish out the season the right way.”
Green Bay players said they couldn’t imagine what it would be
like to face a potentially winless season, and no wonder. With
Thursday night’s win, the Phoenix clinched a share of their 12th
consecutive regular-season league title.
With his team leading 50-15 at halftime, Green Bay coach Matt
Bollant didn’t talk to his players about on-court strategy
adjustments. Instead, he reminded them to be respectful of their
opponents; he emptied his bench early in the second half, and Green
Bay’s backups didn’t appear to be trying to run up the score.
“I feel for her,” Bollant said of Penguins coach Cindy Martin.
“It’s a hard situation. Youngstown’s not an easy place to recruit
to, I’m sure. And I hope they give her an opportunity to get things
Martin declined an interview request from The Associated Press,
and she and her players were not available to reporters after
Thursday night’s loss.
But Tennessee State coach Tracee Wells can describe what they’re
going through. Wells’ team went 0-27 in the 2005-06 season, but
three years later went 18-13 and won a game in their conference
Wells said she planned to reach out to Martin this week. Her
message: Hang in there, because things can turn around.
“It is possible,” Wells said. “It takes hard, hard work – and
as a coach, you have to be an eternal optimist.”
Wells remembers trying to remain positive during her team’s
winless season. She said she de-emphasized statistics and the
importance of reviewing mistakes on game film that year, instead
creating highlight clips that showed players doing the right things
on the court.
Sure, there were games she knew her team didn’t really have a
chance of winning. But she only had those conversations behind
closed doors with her assistant coaches.
“Every game, we felt like, ‘Today is the day,”’ Wells
But that day never came.
“Once we actually finished the season without a win, the last
team meeting, players were asking me, ‘Why did we have to go
through that? Why would God let that happen?”’ Wells said.
“It’s going to be greater later,” Wells said. “I just kept
telling them that.”
And it was.
They won seven games the following season, 13 in the next. Then
came their breakout 2008-09, which included a 13-5 record in
conference play and a victory in the first round of the Ohio Valley
Wells said her players were disappointed after losing in the
second round, somehow expecting a Hollywood ending after enduring
so many losses.
“When they look back, they don’t have to hang their heads at
all,” Wells said. “Yes, they were the team that didn’t win a
game. But they also were the team that won a game in the
With Martin keeping mum, it’s unclear how she’s handling her
team’s snowballing losses. She didn’t show many outward signs of
frustration during Thursday’s game, and sporadic posts on her
Twitter account seem upbeat.
“Just finished shoot-around, we had a great one!” she posted
on Feb. 11. “The ladies are in great spirits and we are excited to
They went on to lose at Butler that night, 82-36.
It’s been a rough two-year stretch at Youngstown State for
Martin, who was 70-23 in three seasons at Division II Indiana
University of Pennsylvania.
Martin didn’t inherit much experience last year, and the
Penguins went 3-27. She brought in some players – freshman Brandi
Brown has 13 double-doubles and came into Thursday’s game leading
the Horizon League in rebounding – but injuries have set the team
back this season; they dressed only eight players Thursday
Still, Martin never stopped coaching.
With 1:54 remaining and the Penguins trailing 82-41, Martin
called Nortey over to the bench to diagram a play for the next
“It’s difficult to put ourselves in their shoes, definitely,”
said Green Bay forward Tetschlag. “It takes a very strong person
to want to come to practice every day and to want to travel still
and play the games. I mean, that’s a tough team. Honestly, they are
tough girls to want to continue this season and play as hard as
they do despite what they’re going through. I just respect them
Bollant offered encouragement to Martin after the game,
recalling Green Bay’s victory in a relatively competitive game at
Youngstown State back in January.
“We played them at their place, they played great,” Bollant
said. “They were up 28-22, their kids were intense and into it.
And obviously, the grind of the year can be hard. But I really
thought the way they played at their place, they’re going to get
some wins at home. Unfortunately, that didn’t transfer to other
games. I just said, ‘Hang in there, and good luck on Saturday.’ I
hope they can get that one.”