Expectations Remain High for Wheeling Park
By JOSH STROPE
WHEELING — Last season, the Wheeling Park girls’ basketball team finally broke through in a big way.
An OVAC Class 5A championship for the first time since 2012.
A trip to the state tournament for the first time since 2012.
But that was last year. What the team does this year and going forward is what can define a program.
“If we don’t go down state, it will be a disappointment,” Wheeling Park coach Ryan Young said. “We want to get back to that position. If we want to be one of the better programs in the state, that is something you have to do year in and year out.”
It also doesn’t help that he loses his top scorer in first team all-stater Josie Daugherty, who graduated and took her talents to Fairmont State.
Even without Daugherty, the cupboard is far from bare and the Patriots will have plenty of talent on the floor. The question will just be: where is the scoring going to come from?
“I think there are going to be a lot of nights when you look a the box score and there are going to be different kids leading in scoring,” Young said. “That is fine and we can win like that. The big question will be who will take that shot when the game is on the line?”
To be fair, it wasn’t like Wheeling Park was lighting up the scoreboard to 70 points a game last season. In fact, the bread and butter of the Patriots is defense and there will be no shortage of that.
Leading the charge will be Kylie McKennen, a 5-foot-5 senior point guard that is as ferocious a defender as there is. She averaged 9.3 points to go along with 105 assists (4.3 per game) and 2.9 steals. She was named first team All-Valley, All-OVAC and third team all-state.
“She is definitely the engine that makes us go,” Young said. “She has all the makings of a good leader. She is going to make our team go and push the ball up the floor. Kylie can score off the dribble-drive and we can rely on her shot.”
Other seniors that came off the bench last season but expect to see more time are Morgan Glass (5-6), Brionna Gray (5-6) and Laurel Robb (5-7).
“Brionna Gray is a kid that has played a lot of spot minutes for us in the past, but is a really hard worker and is going to play a lot for us this year and help provide some of the scoring,” Young said.
Emily Pavlic scored just fewer than 10 points and started every game last season. The 5-5 junior looks to figure into the staring lineup again at the 2.
Junior Abby Jones (5-5), who Young says has a high basketball IQ, will be the backup point guard to McKennen.
Young said 5-5 sophomore Shanley Woods is probably the team’s best pure shooter and she looks to get plenty of playing time.
Joining those seven players returning from last season’s varsity squad will be a new crop of players looking to crack the lineup in junior Nia Cook (5-6, guard), sophomores Kieran Johnson (5-6, can play just about anywhere) and Abby Snedecker (5-6 forward, fast).
Two freshmen Young is really high on are Bella Abernathy (5-11) and Asia Roby (5-8).
“Bella is probably our best kid underneath and I see Asia helping out a lot this season,” Young said.
Young feels like this team is more than capable of making a return trip to Charleston, but knows it will be a tough road.
On the schedule will be the usual suspects, as well as the defending state champions in Class AAA (Huntington) and Class AA (Fairmont Senior). Throw in a tough section featuring rivals Brooke and John Marshall, as well as a brutal region that has Morgantown and Buckhannon-Upshur bringing the majority of their teams back, and it won’t be an easy road.
Young wouldn’t want it any other way.
“We challenge ourselves with the schedule because we know tournament time the record doesn’t matter,” Young said. “The schedule we play on helps us when it comes time for the tournament.”