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," said Perzanowski. "To be able to give back to the university as a coach is truly a blessing."
Perzanowski 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 reigning Alex Kuhn and Kelsey Holloway.
Kuhn, a 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," said Perzanowski. "She can score with either hand and can finish on the break too."
Holloway was named second 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," said Perzanowski. "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. Kelsey was named state tournament MVP for her tournament 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," said Perzanowski. "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," said Perzanowski. "For our team to reach its potential, we have to be strong up 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. Alexa sat out last season following an off-season injury.
"Having Alexa back is like icing on the cake," said Perzanowski. "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," said Perzanowski. "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 Union Local's duo of Kayla Doty.
Ramsay and Rose 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," said Perzanowski. "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 really like our newcomers," Perzanowski 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."
Perzanowski's Panthers open the season on November 9 versus 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," said Perzanowski.
"We will push the ball on offense into a secondary break with a number of options, but our game really starts with our defense. We will extend our defense at every opportunity in an attempt to speed up the game and create more scoring opportunities."
"Our bench will play a pivotal role in our success because of our style of play. Our motto will be that it does not matter who starts the game, it matters who finishes."
"Our goals are to achieve a 3.3 overall grade point average as a team in the classroom, win 20 games, and be the last team standing on February 23rd as state champions."
"It should be a lot of fun. We can't wait to get the season started."