When Chartiers-Houston seniors Ashley and Amanda Balzer started cracking jokes about being out of shape during Wednesday’s practice for the Rotary Club Washington-Greene All-Star Basketball Game, Avella’s Olivia English couldn’t help but offer her two cents.
“Try missing six weeks,” English said, still trying to catch her breath.
English was injured in a single-car accident while driving to school the morning of Feb. 5 and missed the Eagles’ final two games.
She thought her basketball career was over, the pinnacle a 30-point, 15-rebound game to down West Greene on Senior Night. But despite suffering strained muscles in her neck and back that still cause excruciating nerve pain, English didn’t want that to be it.
“Honestly, I never got to play my last game,” English said. “I didn’t get the chance to finish out my season.”
Afforded a second chance she wasn’t sure she’d ever get, English plans on taking full advantage during the first of two all-star games at Washington High School, the 29th year for the annual event sponsored by the Rotary Club. The girls game will start at 6 p.m., followed by the boys game at 8.
English, who averaged 15.6 points and 10.7 rebounds for the Section 3-A-champion Eagles, will play on a team with the Balzer sisters, as well as Avella teammate Julia Carlisle, Bentworth’s Taylor Pompei and Tori Foster, also of Chartiers-Houston.
English will have to miss track and field because of her injuries, but for a night – and for the Roundball Classic on April 20 – she’ll finish her season on her own terms.
“I thought I was done,” said English, who shot a basketball for the first time since the accident last Tuesday. “I had what I thought was my best game, and honestly I didn’t think I’d play another sport. Getting the chance to do this is nice. I didn’t think I would get to play again.”
The concept of One More Game was echoed across town at the boys practice, too.
Christian Koroly, who along with his Trinity teammates saw a surefire playoff season turn into an 11-11 disaster, can’t wait for tonight’s game.
For years, he had gone with his dad, but he requested time off from his job at Finish Line and took a break from his new weightlifting program to participate this season.
“It’s right in my backyard,” Koroly said. “It’s my hometown all-star game, our hometown all-star game, so I want to represent Trinity and represent well. Whenever there’s something in your hometown, you want to be involved in it.”
Koroly, it seems, has some protection. He’ll play for the White Team, which looks more like a football team, with Burgettstown’s Josh Mack (6-4, 280), Beth-Center’s Zach Miller (6-4, 248), McGuffey’s Caleb Reihner (6-2, 275) and Washington’s Brenton Jones (6-6, 294) all figuring to test the Rotary Club’s ability to provide properly sized uniforms.
“We’re going to set a lot of picks,” head coach Rick Bell joked.
The White Team’s top player is California’s Tanner Huffman, who averaged an area-best 22.9 points per game this season, and he figures to be guarded – if, in fact, this game features any defense – by best friend and California teammate Brian Fisher.
“It’s going to be fun,” Fisher said. “We know each other’s games pretty well. We’ll probably end up guarding each other, I would imagine. It will be weird to play against him for a change.”
Also highlighting the Red Team roster is Canon-McMillan’s Brett Haney (16.9 ppg), who will play against his high school head coach in Bell.
Washington’s Jordan Drew and Rikwon Moore figure to have a busy night trying to defend the White Team’s offensive line inside.
No matter the storyline, those participating won’t mind playing one more game against their childhood rivals.
“Growing up, we always played against each other for middle school and high school,” Fisher said. “So to get all the best players from the area and play one big game together is really fun.”