Blairsville lost a lot of production with the graduation of 2013 All-Gazette Player of the Year Mackenzie Livingston. But, with the dual-threat guard up the road at IUP, the Bobcats saw another star emerge in Chelsey Koren.
The 5-foot-11 junior carried Blairsville to its second straight outright Heritage Conference championship and was named the 2014 All-Gazette Player of the Year.
Meanwhile, Jan Brocious kept things rolling at Marion Center, getting the Stingers to the District 6 Class AA semifinals and earning her second consecutive Coach of the Year award.
“After we got out of states (in 2013), we all knew we had to step up and take our game to the next level, and we all did,” Koren said. “Without Mackenzie there, being one of our leading scorers last year, it really gave us juniors a chance to get some points up and play well throughout the season.”
Koren, who has started since she was a freshman, broke out with area bests of 20.8 points per game, a .484 field goal percentage and 4.5 steals per game. She also grabbed 8.7 rebounds per game. Blairsville finished 23-3 and went to the state playoffs, edging Marion Center for the final berth out of District 6.
Koren is a forward with guard skills, playing an inside-out game that meshed with the rest of the Bobcats.
“For my high school team I’m a forward because I’m the tallest player, but I’m actually a guard on my AAU team,” she said, “and that helps me a lot with my ball handling skills and my outside game. The guards on (Blairsville), they’re all extremely talented at getting the ball inside and taking their shots.
“We really play well together. Even off the court, my team is my best friends. They’re the people that I hang out with all the time.”
Brocious took over at her alma mater in 2011 with a relatively bare cupboard, the roster of the school’s best team in years slashed by graduation. Marion Center went a
respectable 11-11 that season but missed the playoffs. Turns out, it was just a bump in the road.
In the two years since, Marion Center has gone a combined 38-12, quickly reestablishing itself as a playoff mainstay.
“Anytime you walk into the Marion Center gym, there’s still that expectation of a program that has a long heritage of winning,” the 1987 Marion Center graduate said. “I’m not all about winning, but I don’t like losing. The girls need to know that unless you put your time into the program and give your heart to it, good things don’t happen by chance.”
Her players quickly bought in.
“They want to be better,” Brocious said. “They’re maybe not so focused on the next level, but just playing great Marion Center basketball. With (assistant coach) Bob Young sitting on the bench, we constantly talk about Marion Center basketball and the heritage that it has, just what it means to the whole program over the years. We put a lot of pressure on ourselves to do well from top to bottom. We expect them to do their best. We do a lot of that, not just about basketball. It’s about what we learn and how successful they’re going to be in life. With all the things you get if you come and work every day in practice, you’re going to be prepared for the real world.”
Blairsville and Marion Center met three times in 2013-14. Koren’s Bobcats took all three contests.
“She’s a great player,” Brocious said of Koren. “Very smart on the floor, very kind, good sportsmanship. I always hear good things. Just an all-around great player that doesn’t get rattled. She’s only going to get better and better and better.”
Koren returned the compliment.
“She’s really hard to play against,” the Blairsville standout said of Brocious. “I love when the Marion Center game comes around because we all know it’s going to be a big game. We all know it’s going to be a great atmosphere. She did a great job with them this year.”