Nick Yourkovich has built a rock-solid program in his four years at the Harrison Central helm.
Year five looms as a very successful one for the Lady Huskies. Yourkovich must replace just three players from a young squad that battled to a 12-12 mark against a rugged slate.
Graduation claimed Jess Custer, Shannon Compher and Amber Hatfield. Custer will be an extremely painful loss, as she was a three-year letterman, starting more than 40 games.
T-L Photo/MIKE PALMER
PICTURED IS the 2013-14 Harrison Central girls basketball team. Front row, from left, are Kara Dunfee, Jesse Ledgr and Ronna Orr. Second row, from left, are Macee Elias, Ashley Mencer, Alexis Yoho, Morgan Carter, Hannah Warrington, Alexia Dowdle, Rachel Morrison and Abby Keller. Back row, from left, are Maddy Doty, Paige Richards, Shianne Nameth, Katie Ellzy, D.J. Keesey, Mercedez Logsdon, Megan Stackhouse and Mariah Kuryn.
Their leadership void will be cushioned by five returning letter-winners, some of whom are prime-time performers.
"I am very excited about this group of young ladies. They work hard, are coachable and never miss a workout," Yourkovich said. "I think that this year could be a special one for Harrison Central."
"Depth will be a concern early on in the season, as I am looking at a seven-player rotation," added the former Martins Ferry athletic standout. "Hopefully, some of the other girls will accept the challenge we have presented them and push for varsity playing time later in the year."
Three starters are back in the fold.
Leading the way will be Katie Ellzy, who has already committed to Robert Morris to play softball. The 5-9 forward is a force in the paint. The rugged junior was a double-double machine last winter, averaging 18 points and 11 rebounds per game.
"Katie is a major threat on the interior. She has improved her perimeter game. I wouldn't want to defend her once she realizes how dominant she actually can be," Yourkovich said. "Katie has all the physical tools and athleticism to be great. She could be one of the best to come through Harrison Central."
Kara Dunfee is the Lady Huskies' floor general. She is a 5-5 savvy senior playmaker.
"Kara is our floor leader. She is one of our better defenders and is a capable scorer." Yourkovich said. "Kara will not see a lot of time off the floor this year. She is like having a coach on the floor."
When Harrison Central needs to dial up a three-ball, Jesse Ledger is one of the area's top deep marksmen. The 5-9 senior letter-winner established a new school mark for treys in a season last winter, draining 55 bonus balls.
"Jesse is definitely a three-point threat, but she possesses more skills than just shooting," Yourkovich noted. Jesse has really impressed me with her defense and rebounding so far in the pre-season," he continued. "We will rely on her presence on the outside to balance our scoring."
Another battle-tested senior will bring multiple skills to the floor for the Lady Huskies. Ronna Orr is a rugged 5-5 forward waging a spirited battle for a starting berth.
"Ronna is a capable mid-range shooter. She is versatile in terms of playing on the inside and perimeter," Yourkovich said.
Harrison Central has a sophomore dandy in the person of Paige Richards. The 5-5 letterman is a combo guard with great upside.
"Paige is the most athletic player we have. She is very quick with the ball and has a nice outside jump shot," Yourkovich said. "We will rely on Paige not only be a defensive stopper but to be a threat offensively, especially getting to the basket. She has put a lot of time in becoming a good all-around player."
The Lady Huskies boast another promising forward in Shianne Nameth. The 5-8 sophomore letterman has the chance to be an inside force.
"Shianne is in the mix for a starting position. She has raw athleticism right now," Yourkovich offered. "She can play both forward and guard. She will be a scary match-up for opponents once she completely grasps our concepts offensively."
A third sophomore will provide solid support off the bench. D.J. Keesey is the Lady Huskies' tallest performer at 5-11.
"D.J. is probably our most improved player this off-season. I wasn't even considering her to be in the hunt for playing time until the pre-season," Yourkovich said. "I am trying to instill a mean streak in her. Once she gets that, the sky is the limit. She is a major defensive presence in the paint."
Two other juniors are listed in the Harrison Central varsity roster. Mariah Kuryn is a 5-6 forward while Mercedes Logson is 5-5 swingman.
Yourkovich has a deep and promising freshman class of prospects, six of whom will dress with the varsity.
The frosh are point 5-4 point guard Morgan Carter, 5-7 guard Madison Doty, 5-4 guard Alexia Dowdle, 5-5 forward Megan Stackhouse, 5-4 guard Hannan Warrington and 5-4 guard Alexis Yoho.
The frosh will also see jayvee time.
The balance of the reserve squad will be comprised of 5-6 junior forward Macee Elias; freshmen Rachel Morrison a 5-6 forward; Ashley Mencer, a 5-6 forward; and Abby Kelley, another 5-6 forward.
Harrison Central makes its season debut Monday, at home, against Union Local. The Lady Huskies' 2013-14 schedule features several new foes, including Shadyside, Beaver Local and Oak Glen.
Yourkovich is supported by a quality staff.
Jay Smith is the varsity assistant while John Visser and Sarah Wilden handle the reserves.
"Last year ended on a sour note, as we lost at the buzzer in the sectional final. That game has re-energized me in the off-season and into the pre-season," Yourkovich said. "It has been a constant reminder at most of our workouts.
"We feel this is the group that can take us to the next level of achievement in our program," he added. "We look to be in contention for a few championships this season."