YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – Youngstown State women’s basketball begins their 2023-24 campaign on Wednesday, Nov. 8, at home against Xavier, still without head coach John Barnes.

Interim head coach John Nicolais, along with six fifth-year seniors and another two seniors, have kept things on track in his absence.

“We’re super close, like one big family and I think the biggest thing we’ve been facing some adversity,” YSU senior Shay-Lee Kirby said. “So just how we’re going to respond to that and again, it’s just we have to come closer than we have ever before.”

Despite Barnes being away from the team, the preseason polls are still ranking Youngstown State in the top 3 of the conference.

With plenty of senior leadership, including fifth-year senior Mady Aulbach, the Penguins actually relish in the opportunity to face adversity.

“It gives us a chip on her shoulder but I also think we realize and our coaches have said this, no one feels bad for us, like we got picked third after all that happened so people obviously still have respect for us and still think we’re going to come out to play,” Aulbach said. “I think if anything, it’s motivated us and kind of made us more excited to get started and show people like, we don’t want you to feel bad for us because we want to kill you every game.”

It’s a feeling the Penguins are familiar with, after being ranked low in 2021-22 before claiming the regular season Horizon League title in 23 years.

“That kind of played out two years ago getting picked what what we were picked in the preseason poll and that was that was a big motivator,” Nicolais said. “So going from last year being picked preseason No. 1, then we didn’t finish up the way we wanted, but now I do think this is extra motivation for everybody.”