The spring semester was unlike anything YSU’s student-athletes had ever faced before. Classes paused for the regularly-scheduled Spring Break on March 9, and they never restarted in the traditional sense as campus shutdowns for COVID-19 took hold across the country. With the immeasurable help from dedicated professors, academic advisors and support staff, student-athletes responded to the challenges of exclusive remote learning to post record-breaking grade-point averages.
That, without a doubt, is the ultimate success story in Penguins Athletics in 2019-20.
Youngstown State’s 400-plus student-athletes combined to post a 3.26 cumulative GPA after the spring semester, which is the highest mark on record. Eleven teams had at least a 3.4 cumulative GPA, and all 18 programs had a GPA of 2.94 or better after the spring. Further academic accomplishments from the spring – 76 percent of YSU’s student-athletes had at least a “B” average during the spring, 73 percent held at least a 3.0 cumulative GPA after the semester, and 104 student-athletes had a perfect 4.0 GPA in the semester. Each of those were new highs.
The record-breaking spring followed up what was a standard-setting fall. Teams had a collective 3.20 cumulative GPA, 67 percent of student-athletes had a cumulative at least a 3.0 GPA and 68 percent had least a 3.0 semester GPA during the fall semester.
The 2019-20 Youngstown State men’s basketball program was a memorable one in its own right. The Penguins had their most wins overall in seven years, set a new Division I record for home wins and tied the school record for Horizon League victories. But, just as important as wins, significant progress was made toward the goal for the city and the men’s basketball program to love each other. That relationship – and the student-athletes coming back to take it further – will be key to high aspirations in 2020-21.
The Penguins went 18-15 overall and 10-8 in conference play in 2019-20, which was the third season under head coach Jerrod Calhoun. The 18 wins rank tied for the fourth-most in the program's Division I history, and the 17 regular-season wins were the most since 2000-01. YSU was particularly successful in Youngstown as it went 13-3 at Beeghly Center and gave No. 25 West Virginia all it could handle at the Covelli Centre just before Christmas.
The energy in the Beeghly Center was palpably intense, particularly down the stretch when YSU hosted the top two teams in the conference to close out the regular season and in the Horizon League Tournament home game. The Penguins had a statement win against regular-season champion Wright State when Darius Quisenberry’s 41 points led to an 88-70 victory on Feb. 20. Two days later, YSU took eventual tournament champion Northern Kentucky to the buzzer on Senior Day before falling 61-59.
The Penguins brought March Madness in men’s basketball to the city for the first time in seven years, and they responded with a 63-57 win over Milwaukee in the first round of the Horizon League Tournament. YSU trailed by six at halftime but kept clawing and rallied behind a 12-0 run over the final six-and-a-half-minutes in the second half.
YSU earned a spot in the CollegeInsider.com Postseason Tournament and was set to bring more basketball to Beeghly Center before the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the season. It would have been the program’s second Division I postseason appearance and the first since they appeared in the CIT in 2013.
"I'd like to thank the Youngstown community for its tremendous support all season. From day one, the Mahoning Valley embraced our players and program, and we cannot be more grateful. We look forward to providing our fans with more outstanding basketball next season." - Head Coach Jerrod Calhoun
Bowling Makes Leap to National Prominence
The Youngstown State bowling program took a monumental step toward becoming one of the nation's elite programs during the 2019-20 season. Winning two tournaments, rewriting the record book and having head coach Doug Kuberski earn two prominent awards were just a few of the highlights from the program's fourth season.
With the first signing class in program history now seniors, the Penguins began their fourth season as an intercollegiate program by winning the first two tournaments in school history. Those two tournament wins, which were detailed earlier on this top 10 list helped the team rocket up the National Tenpin Coaches Association Top 25 Poll from 23rd in the preseason to ninth in December. The Penguins peaked at seventh before finishing 10th, which was 14 spots higher than their previous high for an end-of-season ranking was 24th.
The season culminated with head coach Doug Kuberski being voted the NTCA Division I Coach of the Year and the Southland Bowling League Coach of the Year. In his first full season at the helm, Kuberski helped Youngstown State set school records with 81 head-to-head victories - an astonishing 32 more than any other season - and a .653 winning percentage and a final ranking of 10 in the NTCA Top 25 poll and the NCAA RPI. YSU would have been seeded fifth at the Southland tournament, and it was in line to earn an at-large berth into the NCAA Tournament before COVID-19 ended the season.
Youngstown State earned 14 victories over teams ranked in the top 10 during the season, and the Penguins were 36-33 overall versus ranked opponents. By comparison, the Penguins had 15 top-10 victories in their first three seasons combined. YSU posted its second victory against a No. 1-ranked opponent in program history when it topped Vanderbilt 1,032-1,014 in Baker play on Nov. 22 at the Hawk Classic Invitational. Of the other 11 teams that finished in the top 12 of the final NTCA poll, Youngstown State beat 10 of them in head-to-head matches. In total, Youngstown State posted winning records in each of its first nine tournaments and won at least eight matches eight times. The Penguins had won at least eight matches at just four tournaments in the program's first three seasons combined.
The Penguins rewrote the school record book during 2019-20 season. YSU posted the top two individual games in school history, the top three Baker games, the best Baker match, the top four traditional match totals, the top three individual tournament pinfalls and the top three tournament averages. Youngstown State also set new standards for team game average, games over 200, Baker frame average, strike percentage, spare percentage, and fill percentage.
Abundance of Track & Field, Baseball Athletes of the Week
Despite both of their seasons being cut short, Youngstown State track and field and baseball student-athletes certainly took advantage of the time they had to rack up an impressive number of weekly awards from the Horizon League. Penguins from those programs combined to earn weekly honors from the Horizon League an impressive 17 times in a seven-week span during the spring semester.
Track & Field
In track and field, nine different Penguins were awarded with Horizon League Weekly honors during the indoor season. Those nine student-athletes combined to win 12 of a possible 28 runner and field athlete-of-the-week awards celebrated by the conference. Sean Peterson was the Men’s Runner of the Week twice, and Jaliyah Elliott was the Women’s Runner of the Week three times. Between Elliott’s three wins and single awards by Jahniya Bowers, Morgan Cole and Nicole Squatrito, Penguins claimed the Women’s Runner-of-the-Week award for the final six weeks of the indoor season.
2020 Nike® Men’s Runners of the Week
- Jan. 28 – Sean Peterson
- Feb. 4 – Sean Peterson
- Feb. 11 – Dakari Carter
2020 Nike® Women’s Runners of the Week
- Jan. 21 – Jahniya Bowers
- Jan. 28 – Morgan Cole
- Feb. 4 – Jaliyah Elliott
- Feb. 11 – Jaliyah Elliott
- Feb. 18 – Nicole Squatrito
- Feb. 25 – Jaliyah Elliott
2020 Nike® Men’s Field Athletes of the Week
- Feb. 18 – Blaine Brokschmidt
- Feb. 25 – Brandon Orlando
2020 Nike® Women's Field Athletes of the Week
- Jan. 28 – Olivia Jones
Youngstown State’s hot start on the diamond resulted in Penguins being named the Horizon League Batter or Pitcher of the Week five times in the first three weeks of the season. Those five awards came from five different players, and YSU swept the honors on both Feb 24 and March 2. Starters Collin Floyd and Colin Clark and reliever Chad Coles were named the Horizon League Pitcher of the Week for the first three weeks of the campaign. In total, out of the eight weekly awards handed out in the four weeks of the season, YSU claimed five of them.
Elle Buffenbarger, Softball – threw the softball program’s first no-hitter in seven years in the Penguins’ 8-0 victory over Norfolk State on Feb. 22. She struck out eight batters over six innings as she accomplished the rare feat. Buffenbarger followed that up with a three-hit shutout against Sacred Heart the next day, and she was named the Horizon League Pitcher of the Week.
Chris Butler, Men’s Cross Country – won the Disney World Classic on Oct. 12 with a time of 25:22.1 as the Penguins won the team title. Butler went on to finish ninth at the Horizon League Championships to earn second-team all-conference honors.
Jake Coates, Football – set the school record for punt returns in a game with 133 versus Robert Morris on Sept. 28. He had 96 of those yards in a span of just over two minutes in the second quarter with a 33-yard return followed by a 63-yard return for a touchdown. Coates went on to break the program record for punt return yards in a season with 353.
Morgan Cole, Women’s Cross Country – won the Disney World Classic with a time of 18:15.2 in helping the Penguins win the team title. Cole was named the Horizon League Freshman of the Year and First-Team All-Horizon League with a sixth-place finish at the conference championship on Nov. 2.
Erik Gran, Men’s Tennis – won the No. 4 Singles Flight to highlight the Penguins’ season-opening weekend at the River Forest Collegiate Invitational in September. He won three singles matches in three days to claim the title. Gran continued his solid play the following week with three wins at the Toledo Invitational to earn all-tournament honors.
Victoria Grans, Women’s Golf – was the co-medalist at the Roseann Schwartz Invitational when she carded a 144 (72-72) on Sept. 2-3. She shared the top spot with teammate Puthita Khuanrudee at the tournament held at Mill Creek Golf Course in Boardman, Ohio. It was Grans’ second individual tournament title.
Joel Hake, Baseball – set the school record for career appearances at Pitt on March 4 when he took the mound for the 86th time. He surpassed Ryan Sellman’s previous mark that had stood since 2008. Hake went on to increase his career total to 89 before the season’s end, and his 10 appearances in 2020 ranked 14th in the country.
Ken Keller, Men’s Golf - earned medalist honors for the first time in his career with a three-round score of 221 (72-74-75) at the George Mason Orlando Invitational on March 10. It marked the first time since 1998-99 that two different Penguins earned medalist honors in the same season.
Puthita Khuanrudee, Women’s Golf – carded a two-round score of 144 (73-71) to share medalist honors at the Roseann Schwartz Invitational on Sept. 3. Khuanrudee also topped the field at the Benbow Invitational on March 10 with a two-round total of 146 (76-70). She became the 10th player in program history to win multiple events in a season.
Nikki Mendez, Bowling – bowled the highest game in school history, a 289 against Central Missouri on Feb. 29. She threw the first 10 strikes before leaving a stubborn 10-pin on her 11th attempt. Mendez ended her time as a Penguin holding every career record and more than 20 school records overall, including season average, highest game and highest tournament pinfall.
Tyler Polman, Men’s Cross Country – won the Canisius Alumni Open on Oct. 19 with a personal-best time of 25:11.9 to lead the Penguins to their second straight team championship. Polman placed seventh at the Horizon League Championships to earn first-team all-conference honors.
Nikki Saibene, Softball – tied single-game school records for hits and doubles against Canisius on Feb. 9. Saibene went 5-for-5 with three doubles and three RBIs for the top performance in her breakout campaign. When the season ended, Saibene was leading the Horizon League with a .459 batting average and a .596 on-base percentage.
The Youngstown State baseball team's 2020 season featured a series win at No. 35 Houston, a victory over ACC member Pitt and a number of impressive individual performances that showed a special season could be on the horizon. YSU was off to its best start in a decade before the campaign ended prematurely due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Penguins won three of the four series they played in 2020 after winning just one series in all of 2019. Further, YSU earned its seventh win in its 13th contest, a huge improvement from when it got its seventh win in game number 30 in 2019. At 7-7 when the season ended, the Penguins had the highest win total and best winning percentage in the Horizon League.
With two wins at Houston on opening weekend, YSU started the season 2-1 for the first time since 2001 and opened some eyes on the national level. After falling 7-3 in the season opener on Feb. 14, the Penguins bounced back with a pair of dramatic extra-inning victories to secure the series win. YSU won 6-3 in 11 innings on Feb. 15 before coming back from four runs down in the ninth inning to win 8-6 in 10 innings on Feb. 16. Steven D’Eusanio hit a go-ahead three-run homer in the top of the 11th in the 6-3 victory, and home runs by Braeden O’Shaughnessy and Andre Good in the ninth inning the following day helped YSU force extra innings. Good then hit a go-ahead two-run single in the 10th.
On the mound, YSU pitchers held Houston to just eight hits over the final two games of the series. Collin Floyd was named the Horizon League Pitcher of the Week for his role in the win on Feb. 15.
Olson’s Triple-Double Begins All-Horizon League Campaign
Chelsea Olson started the 2019-20 season by posting the Youngstown State women’s basketball program’s first triple-double in 34 years, and that versatility throughout the campaign led to her being named First-Team All-Horizon League.
Olson registered 13 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds in the Penguins’ season-opening win over Canisius on Nov. 5 at Beeghly Center. She had 10 points, nine rebounds and four assists in the first half, and she had three points and four assists in the third period to increase her totals to 13, nine and eight. Olson notched her 10th rebound and ninth assist just over a minute into the fourth period, and her 10th assist came on a Taylor Petit jumper at the 7:11 mark.
Danielle Carson is the only other YSU player ever with a triple-double, and her most-recent one came on Feb. 24, 1986. Olson was one of 22 players in the country to record a triple-double in 2019-20, and she had just the second one by a Horizon League player since 2013.
Olson went on to become the first Penguins guard to be a first-team all-conference pick since Brianne Kenneally in 1999-00 while YSU was still in the Mid-Continent Conference. The rising senior from Westby, Wis., ranked eighth in the Horizon League in scoring, and she was among the top nine in eight different categories. She led Youngstown State in points, rebounds, assists, blocks and steals, and she was named the program’s Coach Ed DiGregorio Most Valuable Player and Academic All-Horizon League. She will enter her senior season with 936 career points, 584 rebounds and 288 assists.
DQ's 41-Point Performance Highlights All-League Season
Darius Quisenberry posted one of the top seasons by a sophomore in program history as he was named to the NABC All-District 12 Second-Team and the All-Horizon League First-Team. In a campaign full of highlights, his 41-point effort in Youngstown State’s 88-70 win over league-leading Wright State at Beeghly Center will be talked about for a long time.
Quisenberry scored 25 points in the first half against the Raiders on Feb. 20, and he scored his other 16 in the final 9:22 to help the Penguins flex their muscles and pull away. He finished the night 14-of-26 from the field, including a career-best 7-of-11 from 3-point range, and 6-of-6 from the free-throw line as he posted the first 40-point game by a Penguin in three years. That 41-point performance was the sixth-highest total in YSU’s Division I era. He had career highs in points, field goals and 3-pointers.
Also a Second-Team All-Horizon League pick as a freshman, Quisenberry is the first player in school history to earn all-league honors in his first two seasons.
For the year, the Springfield, Ohio, native averaged 16.6 points, 3.6 rebounds 4.2 assists and 1.5 steals per game. He ranked among the Horizon League leaders in scoring, assists per game, assist-to-turnover ratio, field-goal percentage, steals per game, free-throw percentage and 3-pointers made per game. He became just the second YSU sophomore to earn first-team all-league accolades in program history.
It was another year of dominance for the YSU men’s and women’s track and field programs as they again swept the Horizon League Indoor Championships at the WATTS in March. The Penguins won both the men’s and women’s crowns for the fourth consecutive season, and the men cruised to their fifth straight crown. Head Coach Brian Gorby accepted his 14th and 15th Horizon League Coach of the Year Awards for the indoor season on behalf of his coaching staffs.
Men's Team Cruises to Fifth Straight Horizon League Indoor Championship
The men’s team had its second-highest point total ever at the event with 214 and won by a commanding 60 points. Penguins took the top spot on the podium for nine of the 17 events - 60m, 60m hurdles, 200m, 800m, Mile, triple jump, pole vault, shot put, weight throw. YSU scored 25 points in the shot put, 24 in the pole vault, 21 in the 60m dash, 20 in the weight throw, 19 in the 200m and 18 in the long jump. Dakari Carter was named the Freshman of the Year on the track after winning the 60m and 200m. He gave YSU its sixth straight win in the 60m dash and its fourth straight victory in the 200m.
Sprinters Lift Women to Fourth Consecutive Horizon League Indoor Title, Ninth Overall
Led by a second-day charge by the sprinting group, the women’s team secured its ninth Horizon League indoor championship with a 33-point edge over second-place Oakland. The sprinters accounted for 67 of YSU’s 183 points in the 60m, 200m and 400m at the championship. YSU had the top four finishers in the 60m and 200m, and Jaliyah Elliott won both events en route to being named the Alfreeda Goff Indoor Track & Field Female Athlete of the Year. The senior’s win in the 200m gave the Penguins an impressive 10 straight victories in the event, and Elliott pushed her winning streak in the 60m to three consecutive years. In addition to Elliott being named the Athlete of the Year, Jahniya Bowers was honored as the Freshman of the Year on the track, Alivia Bentley was named the Field Freshman of the Year.
Special Award Winners
- Jaliyah Elliott - Alfreeda Goff Indoor Track & Field Female Athlete of the Year
- Jahniya Bowers – Running Freshman of the Year
- Alivia Bentley - Field Freshman of the Year
- Dakari Carter - Running Freshman of the Year
- Head Coach Brian Gorby – Coach of the Year (Men’s and Women’s)