By Joey Bennett
Special to the Tribune-Star
TERRE HAUTE —
The history books could easily tell you how good the Terre Haute South girls basketball team was two years ago based upon victories and state rankings.
The nation’s Division I basketball programs have also taken notice.
With Tessa Johnson’s recent signing to transfer from Lincoln Trail to Marshall, there will be four members of the 2008 South team to suit up in Division I next year.
Dragana Grbic will be a redshirt freshman making her debut at Butler, while Krista Smith will be a sophomore at Indiana State and Megan Craft will be in her first year at Ball State after two standout seasons at Vincennes University.
Johnson was 32nd in the nation in three-point field goal percentage last season and 35th in overall field goal percentage - she is not just a one-dimensional player. She started all 33 games for the Lady Statesmen, averaging 14.1 points, 4.2 rebounds, 2.2 assists and 1.2 steals per contest.
She was honored as an All-Great Rivers Athletic Conference and All-Region 24 performer, and Johnson also won the program’s Triple Threat Award for academics, athletics and citizenship.
“Her ability to shoot the ball is obviously her biggest asset, but she can do a lot of things on the court well enough to contribute at the next level,” said Chad Killinger, her coach last season. “She is willing to defend, works hard every day, and while she has to get physically stronger, has shown that she can put up decent numbers from a rebounding perspective.”
Killinger is looking forward to seeing how Tessa develops during her Marshall career.
“When we signed her, we told her that we were looking at this as a one year deal,” Killinger said. “She was an academic qualifier and didn’t need to stay in a junior college situation for more than one year if it wasn’t necessary. I think she showed that she is more than just a shooter, and there was no reason for us to try and hold her back. She is deserving of the opportunity to play Division I basketball.”
Johnson her enjoyed her season at LTC and likes the environment she is getting ready to join.
“All and all we had a great season,” she said. “We went 25-3 during regular season and made it to the nationals. We didn’t do so hot in Kansas, but just the experience to make it to the tournament was awesome.
“Marshall has a small compact campus and it’s a ‘college town,’” Johnson added. “They have a lot of fans who really support their athletes.”
Marshall is located in Huntington, W.Va., and is a member of Conference USA. The school has had many successful athletes, including NFL stars Randy Moss and Chad Pennington, and was highly publicized in the 2006 movie “We Are Marshall” that detailed the aftermath of a plane crash that killed the school’s football team.
Last season, Marshall had a 14-16 overall record and finished in a three-way tie for ninth in Conference USA with a 6-10 league mark.
Fortunately, Johnson will not be making the long trip east by herself.
Killinger has been hired as an assistant coach at Marshall, and All-American LTC point guard Lateidra Elliott will also be joining the Thundering Herd next season.
Marshall Coach Royce Chadwick likes the prospect of bringing in teammates that are familiar with each other.
“Anytime you add a chemistry dimension to your team, it makes the team better. They played together, know each other,” Chadwick said. “Lateidra brings pin-point passing and Tessa’s strongest asset is pin-point shooting. Those things fit together really well.”
Marshall made just 78 three-pointers as a team last season, while Johnson made 74 by herself for the Lady Statesmen last season.
“Adding Tessa is going to be a great addition because of what she brings to the table. She stretches the defense and that’s something that we wanted to help our team out offensively,” Chadwick said.
“They are looking for outside shooters,” Johnson added. “Hopefully, I can step in there with Lateidra to take some pressure off the post players and prevent double and triple-teams.”
Like all athletes making such a large step up in competition level, Johnson knows what she has to work on in order to continue her success.
“I know I need to get stronger and work on my defense to compete at the next level,” Johnson said. “But, I am willing to put in the work to help the team win. I want to help them win a Conference USA championship and play in the NCAA Tournament.”
• • •
• McCarthy to Holy Cross – Terre Haute North’s Francesca McCarthy has signed a letter of intent to continue her academic and athletic career at Holy Cross College with the women’s basketball program.
McCarthy, a 5-9 forward, won the Gold Medal Award, Rebounding Award, and Free Throw Award with the Patriots last winter. She also won the 2010 3-point contest and was selected to the All Wabash Valley team.
College athletics runs in the family. McCarthy is one of four cousins to compete at the collegiate level including Alison Bales who was a Duke University women’s basketball player and drafted #9 by the Indiana Fever in the 2007 WNBA draft.
McCarthy will play a big role for the Saints in the 2010-11 season.
“Francesca will bring a lot of passion and leadership to our young team,” said Head Coach Matt Hunsberger. “She also possesses an amazing work ethic that is very contagious. Fran’s the type of player that will do whatever she is asked and will be a great teammate for the rest of the girls. We are blessed to have her as a part of our program.”
While attending Holy Cross, Francesca will be working on a Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology. McCarthy has earned numerous awards for her play on the court, but she is also an outstanding student and a member of the National Honor Society.
She enjoyed her North career, and likes the fact she was also able to work on things to help her at the next level.
“I had a wonderful four years playing under Mike Allen at North,” she said. “Every year I felt like we had a team that had a good shot at winning sectionals, and each year I really felt like I improved as a player.
“I really worked on developing the three pointer and working on being able to play a wing as well as a post.”
Holy Cross is an NAIA school in northern Indiana in the small town of Notre Dame, and Coach Hunsberger was McCarthy’s biggest reason for choosing to become a Saint.”
“Coach Hunsberger really made a great impression on me,” she said. “He talked to me about being a great person and a great player. His philosophy really stresses team, and the only way we can be successful is through teamwork. “
McCarthy recently participated in a scrimmage at Hinkle Fieldhouse against the Butler women’s team, and said she got to talk to her new coach about what her role will be.
“I’m going to be mostly playing post, so we can have an opportunity to get bigger, but slower, girls on me causing a mismatch,” she said. “His offense is lots of motion and screening which I think I will fit well in. He also stressed how important my role will be as a rebounder and a defender.”
Coach Allen sees her succeeding at Holy Cross.
“Fran is a three year varsity starter for the Lady Patriots basketball team and is a hard working and dedicated basketball player,” Allen said. “She put in the extra time needed to improve her game to earn a scholarship to play at the collegiate level. Her time in the weight room will also benefit her at the next level.
“Fran will be a good fit in the Holy Cross program,” Allen added. “It is a new program and Fran has the basketball knowledge and leadership skills to help guide them in the right direction. Fran’s success is well deserved and I wish her the best.”
• • •
• Wheeler gets D-I ride – Recent Northview graduate Scott Wheeler missed most of his junior season with an arm injury, and for a while it looked like that accident during a crucial part of the recruiting process would hurt his college choices.
The 6-3, 290-pound offensive lineman was deciding between a long list of small schools when Division I Kent State started showing serious interest and offered a full-ride scholarship.
Wheeler is now a Golden Flash.
“Scotty has great size and is a very explosive player,” KSU Head Coach Doug Martin said. “We think we got a steal late because he missed his junior year with an injury and kind of flew under the radar. We’re looking for him to help us with our depth right away.”
Wheeler earned all-conference honors this past season, while helping Northview High School (8-2) to a Western Indiana Conference title. He earned Northview’s Best Lineman award and was selected to compete in the Wabash Valley Coaches Association All-Star Game.
“It’s a good atmosphere,” Wheeler said. “Everything is pretty close, but the campus is pretty spread out.”
Kent State is a member of the Mid-American Conference, and had a 5-7 record last year.
Two games this season are “money games” at national powers Boston College and Penn State.
Wheeler said he has been in touch with Kent State coach Doug Martin.
“He said as of now, I’ll be second string but he’s not looking to red-shirt me,” Wheeler said.
Wheeler will be the second NHS offensive lineman on a NCAA Division I roster this fall. Joey Evinger is a senior starting offensive guard at Louisville.
“We’re very happy for Scott and his family,” Northview Coach George Gettle said. “This is a tremendous opportunity. This was the best fit and the best place.”
Joey Bennett is a former Tribune-Star sports reporter and copy editor who now teaches at Northview High School in Brazil. He can be reached at email@example.com.