Sunday, December 7, 2003

MSJ's Patterson a blessing for Grace

Lions coach helped Sr. fulfill potential

By Shannon Russell
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Mount St. Joseph senior Virginia Grace knows what a difference a coach can make, because Melissia Patterson changed her life.

Grace wasn't much of a star on her Colerain basketball team four years ago, scoring at most 5 points a game and playing a defensive role behind a handful of highly-touted teammates.

As a senior, Grace had seen the Lions coach sitting in the stands, scouting one of her teammates. It wasn't until later, when Grace decided to attend the Mount, that their paths crossed again.

"In high school she was a rebounder and a defensive player. I saw her as an athletic player," Patterson said. "I told her if she could work on her offensive skills, she could be a dominant force in Division III basketball."

Grace, a 6-foot center, stayed after practices for tutoring. Building her confidence on offense was Patterson's biggest task.

But by the end of her freshman season, Grace was named the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference's freshman of the year. She led the conference in blocks (2.0), was second in field-goal percentage (.535) and was fourth in rebounding (8.7).

"I would honestly say," Grace said, "that Coach Patterson saw something in me that I didn't even know was there."

Patterson's support remained when things got tough. Grace, who averaged a double-double and led the Lions to the HCAC Tournament semifinals as a sophomore, was four months pregnant when the season ended. The news was a surprise, but Grace received support from her family, teammates and the coaching staff.

She delivered her daughter, Makayla, Sept. 26, 2001.

"Coach was really sweating it," Grace said, laughing. "The season started Oct. 15."

Grace returned her junior season to help the Lions to a HCAC Championship and a first-ever NCAA Tournament appearance. She averaged 15 points and 11 rebounds a game.

Grace had lost track of how many career points she'd scored until Patterson told her Nov. 29 that she needed 11 points to reach 1,000. Grace, who actually needed only three points, was shocked that the game was stopped early into the Lions' 49-38 win at Kenyon College.

"We presented her with a balloon and some candy," Patterson said. "She was like, 'Great. Now let's check the ball back in.' "

Grace will probably reach the 1,000 mark for rebounding by the season's end, making her the only player in Mount history to achieve both plateaus. Her 841 boards rank second in Mount history; she needs only seven rebounds to claim the school record.

"I'm glad things turned out this way. I love (Patterson) to death," Grace said. "She and my family have supported me through everything."

The daily grind of parenting, schoolwork and basketball isn't what Grace had imagined for herself four years ago. Nor did she think she'd have toddler waving Mount St. Joseph pom-poms at tipoff, a head coach who awakened her basketball potential, or the conference record for single-game blocks (9).

"I'm very proud of her, that she stuck with it," Patterson said. "Never in my wildest dreams did I think she would have done what she's done."


• Findlay freshman volleyball setter Kelly Byrnes (Ursuline) was named to the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference's second team. She was also an American Volleyball Coaches Association All-Great Lakes Region Team honorable mention.

• Mount Vernon Nazarene senior soccer defender Jeremy Hilen (Lakota East) was named to the American Mideast Conference South Division's second team after leading the team in assists (6) and anchoring a defense that allowed a school-record 22 goals. Junior defender Jamie Hilen (Lakota East) was an AMC South Division honorable mention.

• Mount Vernon Nazarene women's soccer players Kristen Votapek (Amelia) and Catherine Hess (Hillsboro) were named to the NAIA Region IX first team. Votapek broke her own school record with 32 goals and ranks first in career goals with 58, first in career points with 134, and third in career assists with 18. Hess scored a career-high 19 goals and broke her own school record with 16 assists. Hess is the Lady Cougars' career leader in assists with 35.

• Carnegie Mellon senior defensive specialist Jennifer King (Fairfield) was named a volleyball Honorable Mention All-Conference by the University Athletic Association Conference coaches. King is also a UAA All-Academic honoree.

• Thomas More sophomore forward Cathy Santillo (Harrison) was named to the 2003 National Soccer Coaches Association of America/adidas NCAA Women's Division III All-Great Lakes Region Third-Team. Santillo tied the school record for goals in a season with 22.

• Thomas More senior center Matthew Atkins (Newport) was named to the 2003 Football Gazette All-North Region third team.

• Mount St. Joseph junior volleyball player Tammi Toney (Harrison) was named to the 2003 AVCA Division III All-America third team. Jayne Kemphaus (McAuley), a junior outside hitter, was named 2003 AVCA Division III honorable mention All-American.

• Wilmington College sophomore forward David Benedict (North College Hill) was named to the National Soccer Coaches Association of America All-Region third team. Benedict ended the season with 18 goals in 18 games.

• Bowling Green sophomore running back P.J. Pope (Wyoming) was named to the Mid-American Conference's Offensive First Team.



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