Easton helped GV do the impossible
Forward fondly remembers epic Mustangs' comeback against Berkshire
By Chris Larick
For the Star Beacon
Down by five points with five seconds left in a basketball game.
No chance of winning, right?
That didn't prove to be the case for the Grand Valley girls team of 1995-1996.
Kelly Easton (now Zirzow) stood at the free throw line in that exact situation against Berkshire.
"I was a terrible free throw shooter," Zirzow, a 1996 Grand Valley graduate, admits. "I missed the first and missed the second, but put it up and in and we were only three points down. They fouled me on the shot.
"I knew I had to miss it. They didn't box me out and I got the rebound again and dribbled out to the three-point line. I didn't want to take it, so I threw it to Krystal (Henson Force) and she made it. We went into overtime and won.
"There's always a way, that taught me that. (Berkshire) was one of the big teams that year."
KELLY EASTON was named to the all-state team twice during her time at Grand Valley
Zirzow, who will be inducted into the Ashtabula County Basketball Foundation Hall of Fame on April 12 at Conneaut Human Resources Center, began her basketball career early.
Tall (she reached 6-feet or so in high school), Zirzow caught the eye of Tom Schamberg, who asked her if she would play for his fifth- and sixth-grade team when she was in the third grade.
"My parents wouldn't allow it," Zirzow said. "They thought that was too much of a jump."
But she made that leap when she reached the fourth grade and eventually played three years at the fifth- and sixth-grade level.
She moved on in the Grand Valley system, reaching the high school team, coached by Ron Chutas (Tracy Wilson was his assistant for a while before giving way to Jim Henson), and playing varsity as a freshman. Among her teammates were Wendy Chutas, April Easton (her cousin) and Heather Chessman. Krystal (Henson) Force, who will also be inducted into the ACBF Hall of Fame this year, joined the Mustangs team as a freshman when Zirzow was a senior.
"We were always at .500, if not better," Zirzow said. "We always had a rivalry with PV and Cardinal was pretty good at the time. Berkshire was also pretty good."
Zirzow averaged about 18 points a game as a senior. She won four letters in basketball. Her sophomore year she was an honorable-mention All-GRC and Star Beacon All-Ashtabula County selection. As a junior she moved up to first-team all-conference and all-county, second team All-Area and All-Northeast Lakes District and Honorable Mention All-Ohio. After her senior year she earned even more accolades, repeating as first-team all-conference and all-county and moving up to first-team All-Area and All-Northeastern Lakes District. In addition to making second team All-Ohio in Division III, she was named the Grand River Conference's Player of the Year. She finished her career with 843 points and 155 blocked shots.
In addition to basketball, Zirzow was a star in volleyball, under Wilson, and the GV softball team, coached by Cyndi Thomas and Peggy Lane.
That softball team made it to the regionals.
'I did well, but basketball was always my love," she said.
After graduation from Grand Valley Zirzow had several offers from Division III colleges, but West Liberty (in W. Va.), a Division II school was able to offer her more money, and she jumped at the chance.
"I really liked it," she said. "Jimmy Henson and Lindsey French went there, so we had a little pipeline going."
Zirzow played four years for the Hilltoppers, starting at center or power forward for three of them and scoring more than 1,000 points, while averaging about 18 points a game as a senior, graduating in 2000. In 2006 she was selected for the West Liberty Hall of Fame, the same year she was picked for Grand Valley's Hall of Fame.
In her sophomore year at West Liberty Zirzow hurt her knee, an injury to the meniscus. Doctors thought she had a tear there but when surgery was done, no tear could be found. She still earned second-team all-conference honors, however.
"That was the only year we didn't make the NCAA tournament," she said. "We were always close (to winning a tournament game) but were always one-and-out. My senior year we lost by one on a buzzer-beater. That was rough.
The Hilltoppers won at least 20 games in three of Zirzow's four years there, the exception being her sophomore season. They won their conference in her freshman and senior years and won the conference tournament every year except when she was a sophomore.
West Liberty's coach at the time was Lynn Ullom.
"He got some good players," Zirzow said. "I still follow them and go to their games once in a while. When they play Notre Dame or Edinboro, I go."
Zirzow majored in education, graduating in December, 2000, and getting a job in Howland. From there, she moved on to Garretsville, before landing a job in intervention at Grand Valley Middle School. She's been there 12 years.
"There are four of us in special education who help kids with their reading," she said.
She also serves as JV coach for the Grand Valley girls team under Kim (Henson) Triskett.
Zirzow married Erich in 2002. Erich is currently in clinical research at University Hospital in Cleveland.
The couple build a house on land in Orwell that Kelly's grandmother and grandfather gave them. The Zirzows have three children: Izabella, 11; Logan, 9; and Charlize, 3.
Logan plays basketball and football, but according to Kelly is "more of a football player."
Larick, a retired Star Beacon sports writer, is a freelance writer from Geneva.