— By Joe Albright, Parkersburg News and Sentinel
PARKERSBURG, W.Va. — Parkersburg High School coach Scott Cozzens’ investment in a pair of safety goggles before his dive into the haystack following the May PHS commencement ceremony might be a smart decision. The purchase of a full-body suit may be advisable too, so he avoids hay fever.
The Big Reds’ girls basketball leader’s search for a needle in the same mold of graduating combo guard Shay-Lee Kirby could continue ad nauseum.
Players possessing the ability and will to lift their team up on both ends of the floor in today’s basketball game of specializations often proves an overwhelming challenge. Social media and other outside distractions provide more appealing options than players putting in the extra time working and learning to make an equally consistent impact on offense and defense.
But Kirby knows no other way to play. Cozzens’ senior defensive bulldog and offensive assassin jams these two facets into a lanky body capable of twisting and contorting into pretzel-like shapes for steals and layups.
“She is just a tremendous athlete and God gave her gifts he didn’t give me. You just have to let her be herself,” Cozzens said. “We tried to force her into things that weren’t her and it didn’t work. Then we just let her go and kind of play behind her and she has just flourished.
“She has an uncanny ability to get her hands on the basketball in passing lanes. She can jump like a dear. She can tip balls and has really quick hands as well.”
Kirby’s blend of athleticism, attitude, basketball aptitude and talent screams the kind of player capable of anchoring championship teams.
Back-to-back Class AAA state title-winning teams if one wishes to get technical.
These gifts brought her another honor as she has been named the 2019 recipient of the Mary Ostrowski Award for the high school girls’ basketball player of the year by the West Virginia Sports Writers Association.
Coincidentally, her selection came on the morning prior to her eclipse of last Parkersburg High recipient Heather Hopkins’ all-time program scoring record. Her charity-stripe tosses with 5:51 remaining in the state title game’s third quarter broke the mark. Hopkins won the award in 1992.
“Honestly I was speechless,” Kirby said. “As I have said multiple times, it is all about hard work and effort. You have to get on the court and do the best you can every single time. You can’t take anything for granted because you never know when your last game will be.”
To her point, one year after converting the game-winning free throws with 7.5 seconds left in the title game against Buckhannon-Upshur, Kirby again shouldered a heavy load during the run to title No. 2.
With standout all-state teammates Bre Wilson and Madi Mace separately and simultaneously absent from the starting lineup due to injuries, the Big Red anchored Cozzens’ team to the top spot in Class AAA all season.
Double-digit point totals and plenty of turnovers generated from her rover spot in a stifling press were a nightly occurrence.
On the season, Kirby averaged 17.8 points, four rebounds, four steals and two assists per game. Her name also will appear alongside Spring Valley’s Sarah Kelley under most steals in a state tournament game with 10.
All of her effort came without a single desire for personal glory. Her approach to the game she loves best summed up up following her attainment of the scoring record. “I do it for my team and the fans,” she said.
“I am just so proud of her maturity and where she has come from last year to now,” Cozzens said.
She will be presented his trophy during the 73rd annual Victory Awards Dinner, which will take place on May 5 at the Embassy Suites in Charleston.
The Ostrowski Award is named for Mary Ostrowski, a former Parkersburg Catholic standout who led the Crusaders to an 88-game winning streak and state championships in 1977 and 1978. She was a three-time player of the year award winner before moving on to a successful career at the University of Tennessee where she was a two-time All-American and the MVP of the 1984 NCAA Final Four.
Frankfort’s Abby Beeman finished second. She led the Falcons to a second straight Class AA state tournament appearance with averages of 23.7 points, 5.5 rebounds, eight assists and five steals.