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Wheeling Park features experienced, talented cast

By BUBBA KAPRAL

For The Times Leader

WHEELING – Ryan Young has established a dominant program in his eight years at the Wheeling Park girls’ hoop helm.

The Lady Patriots enter the 2022-23 season coming off another stellar campaign, one in which Young’s charges rolled to a 21-6 record and advanced to the Class AAA state tournament semifinals. Don’t look for any drop-off this season from the Lady Patriots as four starters return to go with numerous other seasoned performers.

“I think we have a chance to be really good this season. We can learn a lot from last season and where we believe we need to improve to take the next step,” Young said. “I think our leadership on and off the floor will improve and that comes with being a year older. We were very young last year and I think a lot of people forget that because we had freshmen and sophomores playing at such a high level.”

Park’s returning starters are Sophie Abraham, Alexis Bordas, Natalie Daugherty and Lala Woods. That talented quartet is joined by seniors Casey Ticich, Josie Stone and Mary Derrow and juniors Merritt Delk and Jillian Huffman. They all dressed varsity last year.

“We return our four leading scorers from last season. Alexis Bordas scored 20.6 points a game last year as a freshman. Lala Woods and Natalie Daugherty each scored just under 13 points a game while Sophie Abraham averaged nine points. Lex, Lala and Natalie form a trio of guards that can all shoot it from the outside and get to the rim,” Young offered. “They have all looked sharp in practice and we will get a big boost at the guard position from freshman Seneca Heller. She is a tough and unselfish player who can get to the rim and has a high motor on the defensive end. She complements our returning guards well.

“Sophie continues be a great all-around player on both ends of the floor and has really embraced becoming a leader on this team. She has accepted an offer to play at West Liberty University. Jillian Huffman and Merritt Delk are both long and athletic players who bring experience as well. They can both step away from the basket and handle the ball in the open court. We will rely on both to rebound, give us an option inside and to defend multiple positions. Jillian has really put in some work in the offseason and I expect her to have a breakout year. Merritt is coming off of another incredible soccer season. She is an energy kid who will be playing a lot of minutes for us,” he added. “Josie Stone, Casey Ticich and Mary Derrow are three great seniors who we will rely on to help lead the team on and off the court. Ryleigh Hicks and Keira Sparks will also be in the mix.”

Park has always faced a daunting schedule. Young has added even more heavyweights to the card this winter.

“Morgantown had our number last season and we want to flip the script there – it has really been a great rivalry the last six seasons. We have beaten them in the regional game three times and they beat us three times in the sectional or regional,” Young noted. “Unfortunately, they eliminated us in the state tournament the last two seasons. I think people are going to see the best version of that rivalry this season. Morgantown makes you earn everything and both teams return a lot.

“We added North Allegheny, Berlin Hiland, Trinity (Pa.), defending state champion Huntington, Woodrow Wilson and George Washington, which will be a serious contender this year. We will also play Cabell Midland and Union Local again – those teams are loaded with a lot of returning players and will contend for state titles,” he continued. “Our section and region will be strong this year. University, John Marshall, Brooke, Bridgeport and Buckhannon will all have improved teams – it will not be easy to get to Charleston.”

Young is supported by an impressive staff.

Kevin Heller will be returning for his second season as varsity assistant. Lucy (DeFruscio) Milton is the varsity assistant while former Lady Patriot shooting star Josie Daugherty is a varsity/JV assistant.

“Kevin was a great player at Park and brings a lot of knowledge and experience coaching to the staff. He has a great understanding of what we want to do and he is really easy to work with,” Young said. “Lucy is back for her sixth season. She comes from a basketball family and she also brings a lot of experience as a coach and former player at the college level. Josie Daugherty is entering her third season as an assistant. She is a former all-state player for me and played two years at Fairmont State.”

Young has scripted a game plan for success. Although the hoop season can turn into a long grind, the personable mentor likes what he sees so far.

“We want to play fast. We want to push the tempo on the offensive end of the floor as we have so many kids that can handle the ball that we don’t want to walk the ball up the court,” Young said. “We have a long way to get to where we want to be but I am pleased with what I have seen so far. We have been unselfish and I feel like we have a different energy this year.

“We have to be able to handle adversity and stick together when things get hard. It’s a long season and there are going to be some ups and downs,” he added. “I think we will be able to put a little more offense on the floor. If we can continue to work to get better day in and day out, we should be able to make a run this season. I think this group is buying in to that and it should be a fun season.”

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