NOTE: The Pickaway County Player of the Year trophies for football, boys and girls basketball and wrestling were taken over by the county schools this past fall. John Howley and Brad Morris were named trustees of the trophies and determine the winner. We want to thank Roese Bros. Paving for becoming a presenting sponsor of the trophies and helping to preserve them for future generations. Roese Bros. Paving also provides a plaque for each winner to keep. The winning school gets to keep the traveling trophy in its trophy case for a year, per tradition.
By Brad Morris
Circleville coach Steve Kalinoski still remembers the first time Kenzie McConnell joined the Tigers in the weight room as an eighth-grader.
“Kenzie came over to lift with us for the first time and I can remember everyone, even the upper classmen, standing back and watching Kenzie do her thing,” he said. “She made an impression on us, starting on Day 1, with the way she hit the weight room and wasn’t afraid to put in the hard work.
“When you match that type of work ethic with the athleticism that Kenzie has, we knew we had something then and it turned out to be an outstanding four-year run with Kenzie.”
McConnell led the Tigers to three district final appearances, a district title, regional runner-up finish and a pair of Mid-State League Buckeye Division championships during her career, while becoming the school’s all-time leading scorer with 1,570 points. Needless to say, McConnell was an easy choice to win the Jeff Sheets Award, presented to the top senior girls basketball player in Pickaway County.
“All of my hard work has paid off with everything we’ve accomplished as a team and all the awards I’ve won, especially this one,” McConnell said. “It feels like I’ve made it.
“I appreciate the support of my family, coaches and teammates for making the last four years so special.”
McConnell has been well-recognized at the district and state level during her career, earning Division II Southeast District Player of the Year the past two seasons and first-team All-Ohio recognition.
The Sheets Award, however, holds special meaning for her. McConnell’s dad, Luke, won the Bob Bowsher Memorial Trophy, presented to the top senior boys basketball player in 1984. Luke (1,092 points) and Kenzie’s mother, Stephanie (1,121), were both 1,000-point scorers during their high school days at Circleville.
“It feels like I follow my parents in a lot of things and it means a lot to me,” McConnell said. “My parents have taken me to all of games, they’ve offered me pointers and they’re two great people to learn from.
“They both give it to me straight and that’s made me such a better player. My dad’s experience in boys basketball and my mom’s experience in girls basketball allows me to hear it from both sides.”
The Tigers enjoyed their best season in program history during McConnell’s junior season with a perfect regular-season, followed up by a district championship and the first victory for the program at the regional level in a dismantling of Lakewood. The city rallied behind the team, which received state-wide attention and won the Division II Associated Press poll, packing gyms from Chillicothe to Zanesville.
Circleville finished the season at 26-1 and regional runner-up falling to Tri-Valley in overtime of a regional final.
“That season was so much fun because of the way the town rallied behind us,” McConnell said. “It was special with the success we had on the floor and all of that support.”
McConnell and guard Jaylah Captain were the only two starters to return from that historic team. Captain, however, suffered a season-ending ACL injury midway through the season against Bloom-Carroll, leaving McConnell with a heightened role.
“Jaylah and I knew that we’d have to step up, lead the team and do more than we did during our junior season,” McConnell said. “When Jaylah got hurt in January, I knew the team was counting on me to be a big scorer and the leader, because we didn’t have a lot of experience.
“I had to become more vocal than I’ve been in the past and that’s something I had to get more comfortable with such I’m not a talkative person. Coach K and the rest of our coaching staff helped me with that and told me that I needed to encourage my teammates and help give them confidence because they already had the talent.”
McConnell over her first three seasons was accustomed to playing with her back to the basket in the Tigers’ high-low offense, alongside six-foot Meghan Davis. The graduation of Davis following the 2020 season and the injury to Captain allowed teams to focus in on McConnell and forced her to adapt her game to the new looks she was seeing.
“I saw a lot of double and triple teams, especially after Jaylah got hurt, so I couldn’t play with my back to the basket like I was used to,” she said. “I had to extend my game out to the high post and to the top of the key, hit some jumpers and drive to the basket.
“I also had to work on creating good shot opportunities for my teammates and help handle the basketball some.”
The Tigers started to see younger players like freshmen Faith Yancey and Gabby McConnell, Kenzie’s younger sister, develop over the second half of the season.
“Gabby outscored me after Jaylah got hurt in that Bloom-Carroll game and she seemed to have a nack of hitting some big shots down the stretch when we needed them,” McConnell said. “Faith is a good defender and to get her to contribute to the offense also gave us a lift.”
The Tigers returned to a district final for the third consecutive season, but lost to eventual state runner-up Vinton County. The season, however, wasn’t over as the Tigers had two games to play against Liberty Union to determine the league championship.
“You want to keep winning and advance in the tournament, but we lost to a pretty good team there,” McConnell said. “That was tough, but still having something to play for was nice and we got back after it and focused in.
“When Jaylah got hurt, we told her that we’d win the league again for her because that would give her four league championships (Captain was part of league title teams at Teays Valley as a freshman and sophomore before moving to Circleville for her junior season), so we wanted to fulfill that promise.”
The Tigers lost 55-46 in the first game against the Lions and that promise appeared to be on shaky ground with the Tigers trailing the Lions 49-47 with a half-second left.
McConnell caught an inbounds pass and drained a jumper to the left of the lane to force an overtime that the Tigers controlled to claim a 57-52 win and finish the season at 17-4, with a league championship in hand.
“That last game was obviously the big highlight of season,” said McConnell, who averaged a double-double of 20.1 points and 11 rebounds to go with three assists and three blocks. “That was an awesome way to go out and I’m glad that’s the way it ended.”
McConnell had 27 points in the first game against Lions and poured in 27 more in the final game of her career.
“That’s Kenzie being Kenzie,” Kalinoski said. “She’s a complete player. People focus on her being our all-time leading scorer, but she’s also our all-time leading rebounder and she did so much for us over the last four years.
“Kenzie definitely left her mark on our program.”
The game was the first time the Tigers had a student section during the season due to attendance limitations brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. As they had done during their 26 wins a season ago, the Tigers joined the student section following the victory to sing the school’s fight song, Across the Field.
“That’s something we missed during the season, having students be able to watch us and that was the only time they got to watch us this season,” McConnell said. “At least we gave them a pretty exciting game to watch and then to be able to share that moment with them was pretty cool. It almost felt like last year, like normal.”
McConnell now turns her attention to getting ready to continue her career collegiately at Ashland University, which boasts of one of the top Division II programs in the country. McConnell plans on majoring in exercise science and wants to become a physical therapist.
“I’m lifting, running, shooting and working hard, because I’m no longer going to be the big dog. It’s back to being a freshman,” McConnell said. “I want to extend my game even more and become stronger. Ashland runs a lot of four-out, one-in type of stuff, so I’ll either play the four or the five.”
ABOUT THE AWARD: The award was renamed this year in honor of former Teays Valley coach Jeff Sheets, who amassed a 313-103 record in his 18 seasons leading the Vikings. Teays Valley won nine Mid-State League titles, five Central District crowns and finished as a regional runner-up twice during his leadership of the program. Sheets went on to serve as superintendent of Teays Valley and is currently serving as superintendent of Westfall.
Jeff Sheets Award winners
1982 — Melissa Azbell, Westfall
1983 — Teresa Musselman, Westfall
1984 — Teena Keith, Teays Valley
1985 — Holly Hastings, Teays Valley
1986 — Laura James, Teays Valley
1987 — Amy Wright, Teays Valley
1988 — Paula Everts, Teays Valley
1989 — Lesley Wilson, Logan Elm
1990 — Amy Colborn, Teays Valley
1991 — Ursula Stonerock, Circleville
1992 — Trina Muzingo, Teays Valley
1993 — Gail Adams, Logan Elm
1994 — Julie Good, Logan Elm
1995 — Mindy Fusetti,Teays Valley
1996 — Bridget Oberer, Teays Valley
1997 — Anna Musselman, Teays Valley
1998 — Laurie Barr, Teays Valley
1999 — Kristin Griebel, Circleville
2000 — Tara Wright, Westfall
2001 — Ashley Palmer, Circleville
2002 — Kelsey Schleich, Westfall
2003 — Samantha Hood, Teays Valley
2004 — Kristen Tisdale, Logan Elm
2005 — Amanda Angles, Westfall
2006 — Keri Callihan, Teays Valley
2007 — Andrea Anderson, Logan Elm
2008 — Casse Mogan, Circleville
2009 — Kellie Willis, Circleville
2010 — Alyvia Clark, Logan Elm
2011 — Emily Robinson, Logan Elm
2012 — Caitlin Cain, Teays Valley
2013 — Taylor Saxton, Logan Elm
2014 — Rebekah Branham, Circleville
2015 — Mallory Grabans, Teays Valley
2016 — Shayna Harmon, Teays Valley
2017 — Jordin Blakeman, Circleville
2018 — Jill Congrove, Logan Elm
2019 — Reagan Willingham, Teays Valley
2020 — Abby Hatter, Logan Elm
2021 — Kenzie McConnell, Circleville
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