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Lori Belconis

Belconis was high-flying Eagle

For the Star Beacon

Lori Belconis first made her mark on the Geneva athletic scene at the tender age of 11.

Competing in the Punt, Pass and Kick competition sponsored by Massucci Ford at Carraher Field, Belconis defeated two male opponents to claim first place in her age group, while Pat Massucci, Dale Arkenburg and this reporter looked on in awe and amusement.

Her preparation for the event? Playing football in her front yard with her brother and neighbors.

“There were just two boys, but I was surprised,” Belconis, the daughter of Roy and Esta Belconis of Geneva, said. “Boys are supposed to be better than girls at football. Jimmy Ball and Norm Potter (her competition) always give me a hard time about that. Jimmy will say, ‘All right, I challenge you to a Ping Pong contest.’ His brother Bill wouldn’t let him live it down.”

That may have been the first splash Belconis made athletically, but it certainly wasn’t the last, as she excelled in softball, basketball and volleyball at Geneva High School, then went on to play volleyball at Kent State on a scholarship. Her basketball contributions have earned her a spot in this year’s Ashtabula County Basketball Foundation’s Hall of Fame. She will be inducted on March 25.

The first league sport Belconis played in was baseball, in the Cork Little League with her brother Roy and sister, Robyn. She also gave softball a shot, playing shortstop on the Dodgers team.

“I could hit, too,” Belconis said. “I had a good arm.”

Belconis had watched some good Geneva girls basketball teams as she grew up, teams with ACBF Hall of Famer Anita Tersigni, Nadine Cox and Becky Ritchie.

“I watched them play with my older sister, Robyn,” Belconis said. “She was four years older than me and on the track team.”

When she became a seventh grader, she made the basketball team as a shooting guard. Only 5-8 but a terrific jumper, she also played forward at times when she reached high school.

Sally Toukonen was Belconis’s first coach at Geneva High School, before Jeff Pizon took over the following year. The Eagles had a good team, with Belconis and Michelle and Mary Beth Branham among others.

“My freshman year I had to guard (ABCF Hall of Famer) Diane Davis,” Belconis said. “I can’t tell you how many times she blew by me. I think that was my initiation as a rookie. Ashtabula beat us, 102-28. Our fans wore bags on their heads.”

As her high school career continued, the Eagles became a good team, with Jeanna Coy, Marti Smith, Amy Taylor, Kelly Shannon and Terry Tersigni all contributing.

“I played with (that group) in volleyball as well as basketball, got to know everybody,” Belconis said.

By her senior year (1985-86), the Eagles won the Northeastern Conference championship and advanced to districts before falling.

“A couple of games I had 24 or 26 points,” she said. “I had a 24-inch vertical jump.” At the end of the season she was chosen as Player of Year on the Star Beacon All-Ashtabula County team.

By that time, volleyball had become her favorite sport. Geneva had no junior high team, so she didn’t take volleyball up until she was a freshman.

“My sister was on the team and I always wanted to hit the ball,” she said. “I was fortunate, things came natural to me. I had a natural something; I’m not sure where it came from. My dad (Roy) was a good athlete who played football at Geneva. I always say it came from my five-foot-tall grandmother.”

The Eagles were a very good volleyball team, advancing to the regional finals her senior year. Geneva was on the verge of advancing to state, had Canton McKinley down 7-2 in the third game, when it all came apart. McKinley scored the next 13 points to win, 15-7.

“We choked,” Belconis, who as again named Star Beacon Ashtabula County Player of the Year, said. “We had the better team.”

Colleges were in the process of recruiting Belconis to play volleyball, but there was a hitch.

“I had my first back injury my senior year,” Belconis said. “I went up for a rebound in basketball and came down on my back. The offers weren’t coming in after that. But Kent State did offer me a full scholarship.”

Belconis played for the Golden Flashes her freshman and sophomore years under Zen Goliembiowski, who had worked with the U.S. Olympic team.

“I learned a lot from him,” Belconis said. “I found out my approach was wrong, but he said he didn’t want to mess with it if I hit like (I did). I started as a freshman and sophomore. I was doing well on setting and hitting before it came to an end. I played all-around.”

But the pain in her back became unbearable and she had to quit. Kent State wasted no time pulling her scholarship, so she had to quit school as well. She returned to Geneva.

Not knowing what to do, Belconis decided to teach. She started classes at Lakeland and Lake Erie College, but wasn’t happy.

“I wanted to be a nurse, but I didn’t do that until I was 33,” she said. “I worked as a nurse’s aid with the mentally challenged and in geriatrics. I finally took nursing courses in 2000 and graduated in 2001 from Knoedler at the Vo-Ed School.”

Since then, health issues have prevented her from being a nurse. She has had five back surgeries and three knee operations.

“I have no discs left to fuse together,” Belconis, now 43 years old, said.

Despite her back woes, Belconis attempted to play volleyball on a traveling team, but had to quit.

“I wasn’t able to give 100 percent,” she said. “I couldn’t dive on the floor or play like most people.”

Belconis served as volleyball assistant at Jefferson under Jeanine Bartlett from 1992-1996 and also at Geneva for a while under her former coach, Stan Bielech.

But coaching, along with working, became too painful for her, especially after she contracted fibromyalgia, a very painful ailment.

“A lot of days I have a lot of pain,” she said. “I do what I can, but it’s hard. I have a disability hearing coming soon. I’m hoping to go back to school to do something where I’m not working on the floor. I miss (nursing); nursing overtook by passion for sports. I would much rather work than be disabled.”

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