ST. CLAIRSVILLE - Ohio University Eastern women's basketball coach E.J. Schodzinski has had his share of success at the Belmont County school, even coming off of an Ohio Regional Conference 2012 championship the school celebrated before Saturday's contest.
However, while Schodzinski may be dealing with one of the youngest squads he has coached in his eight years on the sidelines, it is a very talented group that is already beginning to gel just three games into the current campaign.
Former Monroe County rivals - sophomore Alex Kuhn, of Monroe Central, and freshman Julie Bilyeu, of Beallsville - combined for 40 points and 27 rebounds while Shadyside High graduates Kelsey Holloway and Sarah Neavin also hit double figures as OUE closed the first half on a 19-7 run and never looked back for an impressive 74-55 victory against West Virginia University-Parkersburg on Saturday afternoon.
With the victory, the Panthers improve to 2-1 on the young season, with a season-opening loss to a very good Penn State-Beaver squad the only blemish.
Kuhn, who finished with a game-high 24 points and 11 rebounds, scored the initial five points of the game before the Riverhawks answered with a 9-0 run to take its first lead of the afternoon. The visitor's final lead came at 13-12, but they still managed to stay within striking distance at 19-17 midway through the opening half.
That was before a Kuhn basket and a Holloway steal and hoop just two seconds later turned it into a quick six-point advantage and led to the closing spurt that put OUE up by 40-26 at halftime. It was actually a 40-21 score before WVUP scored the final five tallies.
It was not hard to figure out what the biggest difference of the first half was as the Panthers grabbed a 33-19 edge off the glass in the first half, which turned into a 59-39 bulge for the game.
"I told them before the game to go out and be aggressive," Schodzinski said. "Aggressive teams win nine out of 10 times and we have to be that team. Penn State-Beaver was the more aggressive team in our opener and Franciscan (of Steubenville) was in the first half of the second game before we came out and took the second half and got out of there with a win."
While the lead grew to as many as 22 in the second half at 56-38, the Hawks managed to not let their hosts get too far away from them, but were also never able to get back into the contest.
"We were beaten by a better, sounder team in the opener, but we did a good job bouncing back and I think what I have seen the last couple of games really bode well for the future for us," Schodzinski said. "This is a very young team, and it will be a learning process, but we will get better as the year goes on.
"The girls all get along so well and they are very intelligent kids. They are starting to figure each other out and find our strengths. It should be a very fun and challenging year and I am really looking forward to it."
Bilyeu finished with 16 points and a game-high 16 rebounds while Holloway added 15 markers and eight assists and Neavin finished with 11 points and seven caroms.
"We have some nice compliments on this squad," Schodzinski said. "Julie Bilyeu is very good for a freshman and likes to play rough inside and set the tone which is a nice compliment to Sarah Neavin, who is more of a finesse player. And Alex Kuhn and Kelsey Holloway are my scorers and can both hit from anywhere on the court."
Kristiana Hunt scored a team-high 12 for the Riverhawks while Jessica Moore and Samantha Hicks evenly divided 20 markers.
West Liberty 68
SHIPPENSBURG - Hillary Southworth had 19 points and five rebounds but it wasn't enough as West Liberty fell to Shippensburg.
Meghan Wiseman chipped in with 16 points while Jordan Stacey finished with nine rebounds, six points and five assists for the Hilltoppers.
Stephanie Knauer led Shippensburg with 22 points.
Wheeling Jesuit 47
WHEELING - WJU newcomer Breanna Butler put up 14 points but it wasn't enough as Wheeling Jesuit fell to Tiffin University.
Jamie Sobczak and Taneka Lewis added nine and eight points, respectively, while Alex Anderson chipped in five points and grabbed a game-high 12 rebounds for the Cardinals.
WJU held a slight edge on the glass, 40-39, but committed 15 turnovers compared to the Dragons 11.