STEEL VALLEY CONFERENCE Dixon, Bland, Davidson leaders in rugged league
They are the sparks for Cardinal Mooney, Boardman and Ursuline this season.
By BRIAN RICHESSON
VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF
Aieshya Dixon, Amber Bland and Courtney Davidson should give the Steel Valley Conference something to grow on.
The respective girls basketball standouts of Cardinal Mooney, Boardman and Ursuline high schools will provide the current version of the SVC, in its final season, with a powerful 1-2-3 punch.
Boardman and Austintown Fitch will join the Federal League next season, leaving Mooney, Ursuline and Warren Harding to rebuild the conference.
"A lot of the other kids don't get the press because of those three players," Ursuline coach Sean Durkin said. "Talent-wise, we [the SVC] can go up against anybody."
Dixon, a 6-foot, 1-inch senior, shouldn't have many outside factors to distract her. She signed before the season to play at Division I Pittsburgh.
An All-SVC center last season, Dixon averaged 15.5 points, 14 rebounds and six blocks per game. She also had 73 steals and 32 assists.
Mooney, under coach Roy Nard, should make a run at the conference title. The Cardinals return six of their top seven players -- they lost three-year starting guard Lori Patrone to graduation -- making experience and quickness their strengths.
Reigning player of year
Bland, a 5-10 junior, averaged 26 1/2 points last season on her way to Division I district player of the year honors. She opened this season by scoring a school-record 49 points against Struthers.
A former state high jump champion, Bland can score easily inside with her leaping ability and is hard for opponents to contest.
"She constantly tries to improve on her performance; she's never really happy," Boardman coach Ron Moschella said. "Her athleticism, coupled with her work ethic, makes her great player."
Coming off a 21-2 season, the Spartans lost point guard Ashlee Russo, who is now playing at Youngstown State, and Meagan Murray to graduation.
"I think the overall balance of the team has gotten better because Ashlee carried a lot of the load last year," Moschella said.
Junior Brittany Durkin will take over the point guard position for the Spartans, who lost to North Canton Hoover in the district championship game.
"It's a source of revenge," Moschella said of the loss. "They have everybody back. Our kids have worked hard and if we get that far, we're looking forward to that game. We're eyeing Hoover, but we're just trying to get better."
For the third time in four seasons, Ursuline's run ended in the Div. III regionals -- to South Euclid Regina. Although frustrated, Durkin has seen improvement each year from his Irish.
"We're getting more and more competitive against them all the time," Durkin said. "That's our goal -- to get to the level of their program. We're getting closer and closer."
The problem this year for Ursuline is experience -- or lack thereof. The Irish lost six seniors from last season's team, putting more pressure on senior Christina Cook and Davidson to produce.
"If I had to single one out, [Cook] would probably be our leader," Durkin said. "She's doing a great job. She's bigger and stronger. She's worked hard in the weight room over the season. She's going to be a key for us."
Davidson is the reigning Div. III district player of the year. She averaged 21 points and six assists per game.
"This year she is starting to take more of a leadership role, which is great for us," Durkin said. "She's taking charge out on the floor."
Ursuline also will display two talented freshmen in Tyra Grant (5-10) and Vannessa Dickson (5-8). Grant had 18 points in her varsity debut, while Dickson handed out 10 assists.
"We're playing five kids with little or no varsity experience," Durkin said. "We're pretty talented, but it will take some time to get everything clicking."
Fitch and Harding will try to rebuild under first-year coaches David Ward and David Jenkins, respectively.