Blairsville standout shines on AAU hoops team

| Friday, Aug. 17, 2012, 12:50 p.m.

As Chelsey Koren prepares to begin her sophomore year at Blairsville High School, she can look back for inspiration on a banner 2011-12 season with the Lady Bobcats basketball team and a summer that saw her reach the top ranks in a separate hoops career track.

A standout at forward last winter, Koren played a major role for the Bobcats as they set a new school record for their sport -- amassing the most ever wins in a season, 21. The 2011-12 Bobcats also became only the second Blairsville girls' squad to reach the state Class AA playoffs, where they were defeated 51-35 in the initial round by Bishop Canevin.

Switching to guard, Koren this summer reached a new high point on a national level playing in the AAU (Amateur Athletic Union of the U.S.) organization -- something she's been doing since the fourth grade.

Koren is a member of the Beaver Falls-based Drill 4 Skill AAU squad that captured third place in the organization's national girls' basketball championship tournament held July 10-15 at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando, Fla.

Though, like Koren, many of the players on the Lady Wildcats squad were a year younger, they played up at the 10th-grade level in the AAU's elite Division I.

After beating Team Ohio 50-45 in the tournament's quarterfinals, Drill 4 Skill fell to North Carolina's Garner Flames, 66-47, before rebounding to edge Alabama's Southern Starz, 61-10, in the semifinal consolation bracket to capture the third-place trophy.

Koren has been a member of the Drill 4 Skill squad for two seasons. She was picked for the team after attending an invitational clinic at La Roche College led by the Lady Wildcats' head coach, John Miller.

Miller won more than 630 games during his coaching career at Riverside and Blackhawk high schools. His Blackhawk teams captured eight WPIAL Class AAA titles between 1982 and 2003 and four Pennsylvania state championships in the 1990s. More than 40 of his former players have gone on to college careers.

Koren credits Miller with helping her make the adjustment from forward to guard for AAU games. "He has a lot of good drills that helped me tremendously in the past two years," she said, noting she's been working on ball handling and shooting.

At 5-10, Koren stands tall as a forward with the Bobcats. During her freshman season at Blairsville she averaged 13.7 points and 9.5 rebounds per game.

But she acknowledges her height won't be so impressive at the college level, where she has her hopes set on a role at guard.

"My goal is to get a Division I scholarship," she said. "That's always been my dream since I was little."

The AAU season includes some showcase tournaments in July where coaches from Division I college programs have a chance to see the girls in action. This season will conclude with another showcase event in the fall at Villanova University.

Koren's long involvement with the AAU organization has required an equal commitment from her parents, Rudy and Jackie, who routinely chauffeur her on the 90-minute drive to practices in Beaver Falls and have used vacation time to accompany her to tournaments in Ohio, Kentucky and Washington, D.C.

But all three agree the effort has been worth it.

"It's got me a lot of practice as a guard," Koren said of her playing time with the Lady Wildcats and sessions with Miller. "I've improved a lot. It's helped me a lot."

She said playing with the Beaver Falls squad also has allowed her to form friendships with many girls from WPIAL schools with whom she normally wouldn't cross paths as a Bobcat.

Koren already is looking ahead to her sophomore hoops season at Blairsville. After P.J. Vrankovich's single season at the helm of the Bobcats, the head coaching duties will pass to Ralph McGinnis, who previously coached at Blairsville and most recently guided Richland's team.

"I'm excited for our season," Koren said. "I'd like to go far into the state playoffs."

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