“We definitely have the opportunity to be a good team this season,” said Coach Ward. “We are still very young, but most of the young kids have had a taste of varsity basketball at the district level.”
The one major loss for Vinton County came as a result of the graduation of Megan Owings. Owings averaged a double-double in points and rebounds during her senior campaign, and she now plays Division-II college ball at Ohio Valley University in Parkersburg, West Virginia. Owings was the glue that kept the extremely young Vikings moving forward and with her no longer around Coach Ward says it is time for the young kids to step forward and take on bigger roles.
“Losing Megan is a big loss,” said Coach Ward who has led the Lady Vikings to two sectional crowns in his first three seasons as VC’s head coach. “She did a lot for this team last season, but I feel like we have several kids a year better, and we have some new people in the program that have either moved into the district or returned from injury. It is tough to replace a player like Megan with just one person, but I feel like we have some new pieces that will definitely make us better.”
When breaking down the Vinton County roster it is easy to see the youth and talk about the sophomore class, but Jessi Harkins is a senior that will bring a lot of stability to the Lady Vikings lineup. Harkins is a stat-sheet stuffer that had games of 20 points and 20 rebounds a year ago as well as a few triple-double with points, rebounds, and steals. The high-energy Harkins serves as a great leader for the younger players to watch on a nightly basis.
That younger list of talent starts with a trio of sophomores. Tori Dixon, Chelsey Taborn, and Rebecca Puckett all enter their second years with a wealth of varsity experience. Dixon is a pure shooter that can really score the basketball from the perimeter, while Taborn is asked to play the role of floor general at the point of the Vinton County offense. Puckett is more of an inside, out threat that brings some versatility to Coach Ward’s starting five. Another sophomore in Holly Lemay comes to Vinton County from Unioto where she played varsity a year ago and will give the Vikings a much needed post presence.
Senior Abbe Batey has fought through a pair of tough injuries, but now as the senior returns to give Vinton County another leader with varsity experience. Sisters Ashley and Allison Graves will add to the Vinton County depth as well. Ashley, a senior, played some varsity minutes last season, and sophomore Allison – who is All-TVC volleyball player – is one of the more versatile athletes on Coach Ward’s roster. Sophomore Casey Puckett will also add some depth to the Vikings backcourt.
“We expect to get contributions from a lot of different people,” said Coach Ward in response to his depth this season. “We have some good experience and we have a lot of confidence in our entire roster top to bottom.”
Even with the high expectations, things will not come easy to the Lady Vikings, because their schedule is brutal. With the conference race sure to be tight with Vinton County, Alexander, and Nelsonville, the Lady Vikings play Waterford, Zane Trace, Circleville, and Logan in the non-conference part of their schedule. Although this will make the overall record tough to repeat last year’s total, Coach Ward is confident that this will have his team tournament-ready come late February.
“Our league and our Southeast District are very good,” said Coach Ward who has posted a 42-24 record during his first three seasons. “You cannot even think about winning a sectional game without beating somebody good, so it is important that our regular season schedule test us every night out in order to prepare us for later in the year.”