By Sophie Kelner
The Cleveland State University Lady Vikings basketball team dropped their most recent home contest to the Youngstown State University Penguins on Saturday, Jan. 20 at the Wolstein Center.
The Penguins outscored the Vikings 66-52 behind freshman guard Chelsea Olson’s 26 points.
Cleveland State moved to 12-7 on the season and 4-4 at almost the midway point of regular season conference play.
Looking back to this time last year, the Vikings found themselves in a similar situation.
They were 5-3 in conference play and 11-9 in regular season play.
Their scoring statistics are roughly the same—scoring average of 65.6 points per game last year and scoring on average 66.2 points per game this year.
Across the stat lines, only a few differences can be spotted between this team last year and this year. However, this team is competing at a higher level than previous seasons according to head coach Kate Peterson-Abiad.
That improvement began with upper classmen leading the team in offense and defense.
Junior red shirt forward Ashanti Abshaw averages 18.5 points per game and 19.5 points per game in conference play — ranking her second in the Horizon League conference as a scorer.
“Ashanti can score it any way,” Peterson-Abiad said. “We rely on her a lot. When we need a bucket, she wants the ball and we want her to have the ball.”
Senior red shirt Khalya Livingston closely follows Abshaw in scoring. Livingston has tabbed 15.3 points a game and 14.9 in conference games. Livingston ranks fifth in Horizon League scoring.
Peterson-Abiad describes Livingston as a versatile player on the court. Not only does she make baskets, but she also knows how to get the ball to her teammates to give them opportunities to score.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Vikings rely on senior forward Shadae Bosley and senior red shirt forward Olivia Voskuhl.
Bosley’s ability to contest players in one-on-one situations makes her an asset to the defense.
“Bosley is as good as anybody or better than anybody we have at defending a quick guard one on one on the perimeter,” Peterson-Abiad said.
Voskuhl leads the team in rebounds —averaging almost seven rebounds each game and contributes at least one steal per game.
Coach Abiad credits Voskuhl’s time as an All-State goalie in high school for her ball control ability.
“She has the best hands of anybody that I’ve ever coached,” Peterson-Abiad said.
As the returning players have stepped up their game, so has the rest of the league.
The conference has now reached one of its best rating percentage index (RPI) in years.
RPI is an algorithm that analyzes wins, losses and strength of schedule to rank a team or conference.
Currently, the Horizon League’s RPI is 11 out of 32 conferences for Division I women’s basketball, according to Real Time RPI. The Vikings are ranked 133 out of 349 teams.
Last year, the League finished 16 out of 32 as their conference RPI.
With good wins and increased strength of schedule, Cleveland State and the conference has propelled themselves forward in the rankings.
“This is the strongest this league’s ever been in my 15 years here,” Peterson-Abiad said. “In my mind, there are six teams really fighting for the top four spots and then there are four teams that are all capable of knocking you out.”
As the Vikings move forward onto the second half of conference play, wins are imperative.
No team is undefeated in conference play and the teams are bunched up in the standings nearing the Horizon League Championship.
Solidifying a top six seed will result in a team receiving a first round bye, which can help rest players for the long week of basketball.
Last year, the Vikings finished last and were seeded sixth. They lost their first round matchup against University of Detroit-Mercy.
At the halfway point of the regular season conference play, the Lady Vikings are in fifth place.
Cleveland State takes on Wright State on Thursday, Jan. 25 at the Wolstein Center at 7 p.m.