ST. CLAIRSVILLE - Back-to-back-to-back?
Can the Ohio University women's basketball team achieve that distinction?
Only time will tell, but the defending two-time Ohio Regional Campus Conference titlist Panthers will have to overcome the loss of three seniors, coupled with the untimely loss of two key performers.
''Our road will not be an easy one as we have already experienced more than our fair share of adversity,'' eighth-year coach E.J. Schodzinski (148-44) said. ''We are also bound to experience more growing pains, particularly early in the season due to our lack of depth and youth.
''However, we believe we can achieve our goals and get to the dance if we stick together and are able to play our best basketball of the season in late February.
''We also know from experience that anything can happen once you are at the dance. We look forward to starting our journey.''
Savannah Burke, Allie Doan and Kristina Velkovich are the graduation losses, something that Schodzinski said his team will have to overcome.
''We will sorely miss Allie, Kristina and Savannah,'' he said. ''They each played a big part in our recent successes on and off the court and will always be a part of the OUE family. They set the standard high and consequently, we have some big shoes to fill.
Burke, the MVP of the 2011 state tournament and All-ORCC standout from Beallsville, finished her career as the fifth leading scorer in school history with 1,241 points and the second all-time rebounder with 687 caroms. Doan, an All-ORCC performer from Barnesville, finished an outstanding career as the school's third all-time scorer with 1,411 points. Velkovich was a four-year starter and fierce rebounder in the post out of St. John Central.
While Schodzinski knew the seniors would not return, he was not prepared for the additional loss of projected starters Alexa Isaly and Rachel Benda late this summer.
Isaly, the returning starting point guard from River and All-Tournament selection at last year's state tourney, was severely injured from a two-story fall while helping a family member with a roofing project. ''The scaffolding collapsed and Alexa suffered a concussion, broken wrist and shattered elbow," Schodzinski said. ''Thank goodness her injuries were not life-threatening and she has returned to school. Alexa continues to make good progress and we are hopeful that she will be able to return in 2013-14.''
Benda, a criminal justice major from Bridgeport, had planned on becoming a state trooper after graduation. The opportunity arose sooner than expected as she was recruited to the state police academy in early August.
All is not lost however, as the Panthers return four key performers from last year's championship team.
Hanna Gossett is a 5-foot-5 junior guard from John Marshall. The lone upperclassman on the roster averaged 6.2 points and 3.2 rebounds as a sophomore.
The strength of this year's team lies in an experienced sophomore class that features three former All-OVAC performers. Kelsey Holloway, Alex Kuhn and Sarah Neavin were all key contributors as the team made its annual tournament run last February.
The 5-8 Holloway joined the Panthers in January after spending the first semester at The Ohio State University. However, much to the chagrin of the opposition, she did not lose a step as she averaged 11.2 points and 4.1 rebounds over the final 14 games of the season.
The former Shadyside great cracked the starting lineup just prior to the state tourney and promptly responded with a 25-point, 8-rebound performance to lead the Panthers in both categories in the state championship game in Middletown. She was named state tournament MVP.
Kuhn came to OUE last year following a brilliant career at Monroe Central. The 5-6 shooting guard started every game as a freshman and averaged 13.6 points and 4.2 rebounds. She also made 55 3-pointers to lead the team in that category.
''Alex is a very confident player with unlimited range,'' Schodzinski said. ''She can score with either hand and can finish on the break too. However, I was just as pleased with her ability and willingness to defend last year. She is always working on her game and I expect her to continue to improve in all aspects going forward.''
According to the coach, Alex will also assume the primary ball handling duties this year due to Isaly's injury.
Neavin, a 5-11 forward from Shadyside, also played a key role last season. She promptly responded by averaging 4.5 points and 3.2 rebounds.
Schodzinski firmly believes the momentum from back-to-back championships carried over into the recruiting process. The proof is in the pudding as four former OVAC standouts signed on for this season.
''Success breeds success and it became clear to me during the recruiting process that people around the valley have begun to recognize the quality of our education, the affordable cost to go to school here, and the type of basketball that we play,'' he said. ''Why break the bank and pay to play at a more expensive school when you can have a better overall experience at Ohio University Eastern?''
The freshmen class includes Barnesville's Jessica Hunkler, Beallsville's Julie Bilyeu, Monroe Central's Casey Digity and Union Local's Alexus Davis.
Hunkler and Digity are competing for playing time in the backcourt, while Bilyeu and Davis are battling for frontcourt positions.
''I really like our newcomers,'' Schodzinski said. ''They are all eager to learn and are grasping things quickly because of their work ethic.''
OHIO UNIVERSITY EASTERN WOMEN
Nov. 25: OU Lancaster1 p.m.
Nov. 27: OU Zanesville5:30 p.m.
Dec. 1: Columbus State1 p.m.
Dec. 4: at OSU Newark5:30 p.m.
Dec. 9: at OSU-Mansfield2 p.m.
Dec. 16: at OSU-Lima 2 p.m.
Dec. 19: at Akron-Wayne 5:30 p.m.
Dec. 22: OU Chillicothe 1 p.m.
Dec. 27: CCAC Boyce 1 p.m.
Jan. 5: at Penn State Beaver 2 p.m.
Jan. 7: Dennison 7 p.m.
Jan. 8: OU Zanesville 5:30 p.m.
Jan. 12: at Miami Middletown 1 p.m.
Jan. 13: at Miami Hamilton 1 p.m.
Jan. 19: OSU Mansfield 2 p.m.
Jan. 20: Wright State Lake 1 p.m.
Jan. 24: at Kent-Tuscarawas 5:30 p.m.
Jan. 30: Akron Wayne 5:30 p.m.
Feb. 3: at OU Lancaster 1 p.m.
Feb. 6: at WVU Parkersburg 6 p.m.
Feb. 9: OSU-Newark 1 p.m.
Feb. 11: at Dennison 5:30 p.m.
Feb. 16-17: at ORCC Tournament.