Lady Panthers are loaded once again

ST. CLAIRSVILLE Adam Perzanowski knows the expectations will be high as he replaces long-time coach E. J. Schodzinski, who built the Lady Panthers into an Ohio Regional Conference power over the last decade. Schodzinski finished with a career record of 181-55, which included four ORCC regular season crowns since 2008 and two state tournament titles in the last three years.

He is also excited for the opportunity.

“I enjoyed every minute of my time as a student-athlete at OUE,” Perzanowski said. “To be able to give back to the university as a coach is truly a blessing.”

He should be excited as the Panthers return a talented team filled with former OVAC stars, including four starters that won 19 games and an ORCC title a year ago. Leading the way for OUE are All-ORCC performers Alex Kuhn and Kelsey Holloway.

Kuhn, a 5-7 junior from Monroe Central, was named conference MVP in 2012-13 after leading the league in scoring with an average 21.5 points per game, which included a team-high 55 three pointers. She also chipped in with 4.5 rebounds per game. Barring injury, she should hit the 1,000-point mark this season.

“Alex is a difference maker in our league with unlimited range,” Perzanowski said. “She can score with either hand and can finish on the break too.”

Holloway was named second team All-ORCC last season after averaging 15.6 points, 4.1 rebounds and 3.6 steals as a sophomore.

“Kelsey is a great all-around player who can shoot, pass, rebound and defend,” Perzanowski described. “She has a passion for the game and plays to win.”

The former Shadyside great has a reputation for rising to the occasion, illustrated by her 25-point, 8-rebound performance in the 2012 state championship. She was named state tournament MVP for her efforts.

Perzanowski can also count on the return of sophomores Alexus Davis and Julie Bilyeu. Davis, a 5-10 sophomore from Union Local, is the team’s best defender and overall athlete. She averaged 6.8 points and 5.2 rebounds per game as a freshman.

“Alexus can guard just about anyone on the floor,” Perzanowski noted. “She is our best on-ball defender and also can rebound against bigger power forwards.”

Bilyeu is the enforcer inside. The 5-11 forward from Beallsville came on strong at the end of last season and provided the Lady Panthers with a scoring presence inside. For the year, she averaged 8.2 points and 6.5 rebounds.

“I am counting on Julie to continue her improvement this year,” Perzanowski added. “For our team to reach its potential, we have to be strong in the middle.”

Two players return to the team after sitting out the 2012-13 season. Point guard Alexa Isaly and forward Jaclyn Johnson are expected to have an immediate impact on this year’s team.

Isaly, a 5-6 junior from River, started every game as a freshman and helped lead the team to the 2012 state championship. She was exceptional in the finals and was named to the All-Tournament team as a result. She sat out last season following an off-season injury.

“Having Alexa back is like icing on the cake,” Perzanowski continued. “She is a tough, determined player who does all of the little things like blocking out and playing hard-nosed defense. I’m sure it won’t take her long to knock the rust off.”

Johnson, a 6-0 junior from Shadyside, is expected to help on the interior. “Jaclyn is a tall six footer,” Perzanowski said. “She has long arms and the ability to change shots inside.”

Perzanowski can thank his predecessor for a fine recruiting class of former OVAC stars. The freshman class includes Buckeye Local’s Kayla Fillipovich, Martins Ferry’s Meghan Rose, Monroe Central’s Chelsie Roberts, River’s Laken Ramsay and the Union Local duo of Kayla Doty and Carlee Stiles.

Ramsay, Rose and Stiles will be competing for time in the backcourt, while Doty, Fillipovich and Roberts are battling for front court positions.

“Success breeds success and Coach Schodzinski did a tremendous job building upon the program’s momentum year after year,” Perzanowski said. “People in our community now realize that we offer a high quality and affordable education plus a top notch athletic experience in a great facility too. I aim to keep the momentum rolling.”

“I really like our newcomers,” he continued. “They are all eager to learn and are grasping things quickly because of their work ethic. It is a big transition from high school to college, the game is a lot faster, and the 30 second shot clock plays a big factor, but I think this group is up to the challenge.”

The Panthers opened the season on Saturday against OSU Mansfield and the coach does not see the game plan changing from recent years.

“We will continue the tradition of priding ourselves on defense and try to pressure the opposition into mistakes,” he said. “We will push the ball on offense into a secondary break with a number of options, but our game really starts with our defense.”