Wheeling Park’s Puskarich a 3-Time Class AAA First-Teamer

McKenzie Akers gave opponents fits.

Quick, and adept at both the jumper and the drive, Akers lit up the scoreboard during her four years as a basketball standout at Princeton High School.

But for her coach and team, she gave peace of mind.

“You knew McKenzie would always hit at least 20 points, no matter if she was having a bad night,” coach Debbie Ball said. “Her teammates knew she would carry them if she had to.”

The 5-foot-6 senior caps off a superb career by being named captain of the Class AAA all-state basketball team, as announced today by the West Virginia Sports Writers Association.

Akers averaged 25.2 points, five assists, 2.6 rebounds and three steals in leading the Tigers to a 19-6 record and a quarterfinal game in the state tournament in Charleston.

She was a playmaker from the outset of her career. Defense, however, wasn’t an early strong suit.

“She was always our point guard -she liked to have the ball in her hands,” Ball said. “When she first started, her focal point wasn’t really defense. She was afraid if she played hard, she’d foul out.”

Hard work improved Akers’ defense greatly. Ball said she always gave 100 percent in practice.

“McKenzie goes hard. She doesn’t like to lose at all,” Ball said. “Some kids think losing is part of the game, but she’s not like that. It takes a while for her to get over loss.”

Akers, who broke the 1,000-point career plateau last season, repeats as a first team all-stater. She was a second-team all-stater as a sophomore.

She’ll play next season at Marshall University.

Greenbrier East’s Bianca Andre, another returning first-teamer, helped the Spartans compile a 24-1 mark.

Andre averaged 19.5 points, 8.5 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 2.1 blocks on the season.

She had 29 points and 21 rebounds in a 68-51 sectional victory against Princeton.

With No. 1-ranked East forced to stay home, the state tournament became a toss-up. Underclassmen-dominated Parkersburg South and Logan played for the championship, with South taking a 58-34 victory.

Their point guards, South freshman Taryn McCutcheon and Logan sophomore Shayna Gore, drew raves at state and were selected to the AAA first-team.

McCutcheon had a state record-tying 13 assists in the title victory, and averaged 15 points, eight assists and 3.7 steals in three games.

“One of Taryn’s goals was to set a new school season-assist record, and she did that,” coach Scott Stephens said. “Her mom, Dina Smith, has the career assist record at South, and Taryn’s goal is to break that record as well. She’s well on her way.”

McCutcheon averaged 16.9 points, 7.7 assists, 6.1 rebounds and 3.5 steals in her first varsity season.

Gore, at 5-11, is a mismatch for opponents. She averaged 18.7 points, 9.6 assists and 6.8 rebounds for the Wildcats.

She averaged 21.7 points and had seven 3s at states. She scored 36 points in the quarterfinals against Princeton.

Wheeling Park’s Emily Puskarich recently became a D-I signee with Robert Morris. She is now a three-time first-team all-stater who averaged 21 points, four assists, five steals and seven rebounds for the 14-10 Patriots.

Stephens said Puskarich has a great shot and a quick first step.

“You try to lock her down on that shot. If you’re not ready, she will go right by you,” he said. “She handles the ball well and does a great job distributing it. She’s a complete player.”

Huntington 6-1 senior guard-forward Kiana Evans is another returning first-team player. She averaged 22 points, six rebounds and two blocks for the Highlanders, who were 18-5 and lost to Logan in the sectionals.

Evans, like Akers, is headed to Marshall on a scholarship.

Ball also gave high marks to Spring Valley’s Madison Morris, a 6-1 sophomore and the only true post on the first team.

Morris averaged 18 points and 12 rebounds for the 23-4 Timberwolves, who lost to Logan in the state semifinals. She moves up from last year’s third team.

University’s Mariah Callen, a 5-5 junior guard, moves up from the second team. A 1,000-point scorer, she averaged 19.7 points, 6.3 assists and 3.8 steals for the 18-6 Hawks.

Brooke’s Angela Staffileno of Brooke is a member of the second team, while the third team is captained by Wheeling Park’s Haley Robb.