Krystal (Henson) Force
Henson's hard work paid off
Guard's success with Mustangs led to record-breaking career at Edinboro
By Chris Larick
For the Star Beacon
Early in her basketball career, Krystal (Henson) Force shared her primary aspiration with her father, Grand Valley boys basketball coach Tom Henson.
"I told him, 'I want to get a scholarship to play college basketball,' " Force said. "He said, 'If you work hard, I'll help you.' "
Force, who will be inducted into the Ashtabula County Basketball Foundation on Apr. 12 at the Conneaut Human Resources Center, would go on to realize that dream and more. She not only earned a scholarship to Edinboro University, she became a star there.
But that's getting ahead of the story. She was so young when she was introduced to the sport that she can't even tell you when that was.
"I did it all my life," she said."I could go (to Grand Valley practices) with my dad (himself an ACBF Hall of Famer) and work on it all year-round."
Force's older sisters, Kim and Kelly, had both starred at Grand Valley before her. Quite naturally, Krystal played whatever sport was in season — volleyball, softball or basketball — with and against them.
Her organized basketball career began in the fourth grade, when she started playing in a traveling league with the Orwell fifth- and sixth-grade team coached by Tom Schamberg, playing with girls like Laura Easton, Michelle Collins, Knicole Baker, Missy Holley and Laura Mraz.
"We were pretty good in the fifth and sixth grades," Force said. "It always came down to Madison and us. It seems like every time we lost to Madison in the tournament."
In the seventh and eighth grades she played with Jackie Panek on the Grand Valley Junior High team coached by her uncle Jim and Tracy Nelson, a squad that did "pretty well" according to Force.
The game that Henson remembers the best from those years was a contest against Edgewood. The game was tied with 10 seconds left. The Mustang coaches drew up a play for Henson, but she wasn't open and passed it to Baker, who made the winning shot.
By the time she was a freshman, Force was ready to play varsity basketball under coach Ron Chutas, meaning she got to start with players like Kelly Easton, who will also be inducted into the ACBF Hall of Fame this year.
At that time Grand Valley was a member of the East Suburban Conference. The Mustangs' hopes for a league championship were constantly being frustrated by a neighbor school.
"We were always getting beat by PV (Pymatuning Valley) my sophomore and junior year," she said. "In my freshman year Berkshire was 15-0 and we beat them at their place."
KRYSTAL HENSON (FORCE) was a county and conference player of the year at Grand Valley before going on to play at Edinboro University (where she's shown dribbling above)
KRYSTAL HENSON (FORCE) taking a shot at Edinboro
KRYSTAL HENSON (FORCE) on defense at Edinboro
KRYSTAL HENSON (FORCE) with her husband, Paul, and sons Jordan, 4, and Logan, 1
Force will always remember that game because of the extremely unusual way it ended.
"We were down by five points with five seconds left," she remembers. "Kelly Easton was fouled but missed both shots. She got the rebound and put it in, and was fouled again. She missed (deliberately this time), got the rebound and threw the ball to me. I hit a three-pointer to tie the game and we beat them in overtime."
In her sophomore year, Chutas had to miss a game against Bristol because his son was graduating from college and Krystal's uncle Jim took over as head coach.
"They were a really good team at the time," Force said. "We ended up beating them in triple overtime. In the third overtime we were up. My Uncle Jim had told us to be smart and not take bad shots.
"Well, I was open at the three-point line and I shot it and made it. My Uncle Jim called a timeout and got on me for shooting that shot because it wasn't a smart shot. I looked at our freshmen coach and said, 'Well at least I made it'. It was a great game and I enjoyed being able to play for my Uncle Jim for a game. And in the end, we won.
"I look back and chuckle at this game because my dad has always told me that I have never seen a shot that I didn't like. He was right. I saw that three and thought it was a good shot to take. Good thing I made it because I might have gotten yelled at more by my uncle if I hadn't made it."
In her senior year, Force, a 5-foot-3 guard, starred with a Mustangs team that also included Tara Schamberg, Baker, Kim Brouse and Alyssa Winer. She was named Player of the Year in the county and conference, averaging somewhere between 23 and 25 points a game.
That year she posted her career mark in points for a game against Newbury.
"It's funny to hear Coach (Bob) Johnson talk about this game because he always says no matter what they did, I would just move further back from the three-point line and make my shots," Force said. "The funny part about this is that my high school boyfriend had broken up with me the day before, so instead of being sad about it, I got mad and scored 43 points in the game the next day."
Force finished her high school career (in 1999) with records for points scored (1,491), assists (453) and steals (346). Her point total was only recently surpassed.
In addition to basketball, she starred in softball under Cyndi Thomas as a pitcher and in volleyball under Tracy Nelson. Despite her height, she played as a hitter when she was in the front row.
"I had some jumps in me back in the day," she said.
She lettered four years in volleyball and softball and three in basketball.
She got the basketball scholarship she dreamed about at Edinboro and played four years there as a shooting guard, accumulating 1,263 points, 16th in school history but 10th when she graduated. In addition, she still holds the school records for the Fighting Scots for three-point shots made in a season (88) and in a career (275).
"It was a real good conference," she said. "Not everybody made the playoffs and we did three of my four years there. We were always over .500."
One of her memorable games at Edinboro came against Slippery Rock her junior year. Force hit six threes and teammate Jodi Calderone made five.
"We won the game," Force said. "Jackie Altenweg from Perry played for Slippery Rock at the time. That was exciting because our coach had gone with all guards in this game and we won.
Another game she remembers well occurred in her senior year against Indiana University of Pa.
"We were down by one and a play was set up for Luchelle Crawl on our team," Force remembers. "She wasn't open so I decided to attack the basket to try to get fouled. I didn't get fouled, but I made the layup and we won by one. Sarah Zdesar, who played at VASJ, played for Slippery Rock. So I looked at this game as I finally won against a VASJ player, since they always beat us in the tournament."
Force graduated in 2003 with a major in early childhood elementary education. Her older sister Kim, a teacher at Grand Valley, became pregnant and Krystal took over as a full-time substitute for her, finishing the year out.
The following year two other Grand Valley teachers became pregnant and Force filled in for them.
After that she taught the title program for two years and has taught third grade in the Grand Valley system for the past eight years.
In 2008 she married Paul Force, whom she had known since she was 14 when he worked at her dad's camp. Paul was coaching Eastlake North's girls in a game against Grand Valley, coached by Krystal's sister, Kim. The two got reacquainted and started dating, with the first date a Cavaliers' game. Paul currently teaches health at Willoughby Middle School and is the varsity girls coach at Eastlake North, with Krystal as his assistant.
The Forces have two sons, Jordan, 4, and Logan, 1. Krystal's proud parents, Tom and Carla, attend the North girls games with their grandchildren.
Krystal often plays against the North girls during open gym and she and Paul, a former star under Chad Frazier at West Geauga, still play against each other fairly often.
"I beat him once," Krystal said.
"I owe a lot of success to my dad," Krystal Force said, "for all the time he spent with me. Sometimes we'd yell at each other because I'd get frustrated. I used to play one-on-one against A.J. (her nephew). I'm like an older sister to him. He finally beat me. It's a joy to see somone put as much time and effort in as he does."
"My mom was always the cheerleader and I owe a lot of my success to my sisters and to my grandma and grandpa's support. It was fun to see them in the stands."
Larick, a retired Star Beacon sports writer, is a freelance writer from Geneva.