WHEELING-Ending her five-year hiatus from coaching girls' basketball, Dee Davis is back on the bench at Wheeling Park High School and she probably couldn't have picked a better time to return.
Davis, still regarded as one of the Ohio County Consolidated school's all-time greatest female athletes, was handed the reins of an ultra-talented Patriots squad that returns four starters, two of whom are already three-year letter-winners.
When Meredith Dailer resigned the head coaching position after giving birth to her first child last spring, Davis was tabbed as her replacement. During her previous tenure coaching the Wheeling Park girls, Davis' accomplishments included guiding the Patriots to back-to-back West Virginia Class AAA state championships (1998 and 1999).
''This feels great. I am very excited to be back coaching basketball," said Davis, who also will continue her duties as the Patriots' softball coach. ''After five years away from this, I feel rejuvenated. I love going to practice and can't wait until our first scrimmage to see how well what we have been practicing on still works."
''These are very smart kids, and I believe they are picking up my system quickly. Our practices have been really competitive. The girls have been willing to do things over and over again until they got it right. This group is similar to our two past state championship teams except maybe we are a little quicker team-wise this year."
Some other good news surrounding program became official recently when returning two-time all-state standout Emily Puskarich announced she had committed to Robert Morris in Pittsburgh.
The 5-foot-8 Puskarich, already a three-time All-Valley and All-OVAC honoree, averaged 18.2 points, 6.5 rebounds and 3.7 steals per game from her off-guard position last winter. Her work ethic and solid all-around play helped lead the 2011-12 Patriots to a 22-5 record, OVAC and Region One championships a final four berth in the Class 3A state tournament.
Puskarich's running mate at guard, Haley Robb (5-8), also had a huge junior year displaying her hustle and deadly shooting range from the perimeter and beyond. Robb earned All-Valley first-team laurels after averaging 13.6 points and 4.9 rebounds. She drained 56 3-pointers last season during her third campaign in the starting lineup.
Other returning starters are highly regarded junior point guard Marissa Tucker (5-5) and junior forward Kelsi Johnson (5-8).
For the past two years Tucker was been the igniter for the Patriots on the both ends of the floor. She is another scoring threat from behind the arc who won't hesitate to put up a shot if left unguarded. Johnson had a promising sophomore season in her first opportunity as a starter and will be counted on heavily for her rebounding and improved inside scoring potential.
Among the other returning players from last season are senior Kristen Slater (5-5), juniors Kambrea O'Neil (5-8), Danielle Kutrovac (5-8), Caitlyn Taylor (5-11) and Audrey Loew (6-0). Sophomores also in the picture are Kendra Johnson (5-10),
Chloe Robb (5-5), Faith Peluchette (5-5), Skylar Carrington (5-6), Morgan Karnell (5-7), Sidney Stewart (5-7), Hannah Muth (5-8) and Katie Franke (5-5).
A couple of freshmen candidates that have been making their presence known are Tamara Bumgardner (5-9) and Shelby Peluchette (5-5).
Not very big inside, Park will be a 90-foot team with expectations of being able to push the ball up floor and apply much defensive heat, exactly the style of play Davis prefers.
''We want to be able to take advantage of our speed. We can move it (the ball) pretty well. Because we aren't very big inside, rebounding is our main concern. I think we can be a good defensive team once we break them of the habit of reaching so much," Davis explained.
On the Patriots' graduation list were starting forward Krista Crawshaw, who is on the roster at Wheeling Jesuit, and Alex Franke.
The early schedule is another concern as Park will play six of the first seven games on the road against the likes of George Washington, Morgantown, Shadyside and University. The season opener is at regional rival Brooke on Dec. 4, while the only home game in the early going is against Parkersburg South on Dec. 7.
Joining the Patriots' coaching staff this year are a couple of very familiar Ohio Valley basketball names, former Magnolia High School and West Liberty University standout Ashlea (Bland) Minch and Rick Jones, who had some successful season coaching girls' basketball at Union Local. Elaine Hatcher and Marci Imhoff round out the list of Davis's assistants.