Hopeless hoops? Youngstown State women are 0-28

Mar 6, 2010 - 4:18 PM By CHRIS JENKINS AP Sports Writer

GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) -- 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 turned around."

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 tournament.

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 said.

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.

Her answer?

"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 Conference tournament.

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 tournament."

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 play tonight!"

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 night.

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 possession.

"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 very much."

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."

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