A true mighty mite
At 5-foot-3, Jefferson's Traci Hozian proved brains were better than brawn
By KARL PEARSON
Traci Hozian has always been interested in the workings of the mind. It was that way when she was a player, both in preparing herself for competition and in testing her limits and the tolerance of her coaches.
"I had a lot of mental talks before games to help myself out," the 1990 Jefferson High School graduate said. "I've always thought of basketball as a mental game. Yes, you have to be athletic, but you also have to be smart."
Hozian, who was one of the key players for coach Rod Holmes in what he calls the "second tier" of the growth of the Falcon program into an area girls basketball power, also was known to enjoy trying to push the buttons of Holmes and his coaching staff.
"I was kinda of feisty," she said from her home in Berkley, Calif.
Holmes, Ashtabula's County career record holder for basketball victories, puts it a slightly different way.
"There were times when Traci and I butted heads," he said. "I probably tried to play as many head games with her then as she does with the kids she works with now."
That is said by the coach with his understated sense of humor and a great sense of pride in Hozian's path in life.
"I couldn't be prouder of what Traci has done," Holmes said of his guard, who played at 5-foot-3 and 103 pounds. "Where she is now is a great testimony to how hard she has worked and still works."
That penchant for hard work has the 36-year-old Hozian well along the road toward a degree as a clinical psychologist. She is studying at the American School of Professional Psychology.
"I got my undergraduate degree from Kent State in 2004," she said. "I have a masters in passing that I should be finishing up this summer. I'm also doing my predoctural studies and working on my dissertation. Hopefully, I'll be done with that by the end of next year.
"After I graduate, I've got a year of postdoctoral work, which will be clinical work. Then, most likely I'll go into private practice for a while. Right now, I'm also working with kids at Santa Rosa College in Sonoma County, which is about a 40-minute drive for me."
Even when she was in high school, Hozian had two real goals for her life. She is closing in on the second.
"I dreamed of playing college ball," she said. "I also knew I wanted to be a psychologist.
"I had a few full-ride offers. I regretted a bit that I didn't follow through with that and try it."
But she also found out from some of her old teammates who did pursue college basketball that it had certain pitfalls.
"I have talked to some people like Anita (Jurcenko Moore) and Trixie Wolf who went on and played college ball," Hozian said. "They said it wasn't the fun that high school basketball had been, that it was a job in college. Now, I have no regrets about my decision. It was just meant to be."
Instead, Hozian credits Holmes and volleyball and JV basketball coach Jeanine Bartlett with giving her the direction she needed to,set out on the path she has chosen.
"Coach Bartlett and Coach Holmes did a lot for me," she said. "The impact they had on me has meant so much in my life."
Fittingly, Hozian is being honored for her impact on Ashtabula County basketball with her selection into the Class of 2007 of the Ashtabula County Basketball Hall of Fame. She will be the only female inductee in a group of 12 to be honored April 1 at the ACBF's annual banquet at the Conneaut Human Resources Center.
Appropriately, it was Holmes who first informed Hozian of her selection to the Hall of Fame.
"I'm really flattered," she said. "I wasn't even aware anything like this existed until Coach Holmes called me. It took me back a bit to a time of a lot of good memories.
"The last time I really played competitively was in high school. I still like to get out there and pop a few on my lunch hour. People don't believe a short person like me can play like that, so I have to show them."
Being connected again in the Hall of Fame to other former Falcons like Moore, who followed her at Jefferson, and predecessors like Di (Anthony) Henslee and Kelly Boggs is also an unexpected pleasure.
"It's great to be linked to those players again, to people who have been such a large part of the success of Jefferson basketball," Hozian said. "Players like Kelly Boggs and Di Anthony put the fire in my eye. They were a feisty group. They really inspired us. And girls like Anita and Trixie were such great teammates."
Basketball was a great source of comfort and enjoyment for Hozian even as a little child. Her mother, the former Sharon Maloney, was killed in a car crash when her sister, Chris Hozian was just 3 and Traci was still a toddler. Intrigued by the action going on among the kids on Susan Drive, right near Jefferson High School, young Traci decided to get involved.
"I was probably 7 or 8 when I started playing basketball." she said. "I grew up in an all boys neighborhood, so I had no other choices than to play with the boys. I came home crying a few times and my dad (Raymond Hozian, who died last year) told me it didn't do any good to be crying and to go back out and play."
That probably helped Hozian become the tough competitor she was. She carried that attitude into her first formalized basketball experience in the junior-high program at Ashtabula's Mother of Sorrows School. her first coach was a familliar area sports figure, former St. John and Madison coach and local official Paul Stofan.
"It was so much fun playing for him and with that group of girls," Hozian said. "Amy Laffey and Heather Liuzzo were a couple of teammates.
"I remember one time before a big game against Mount Carmel, which was our big rival. Stofan sent over a singing clown to school before the game. That really was good for us."
Instead of staying on the path of parochial school basketball to St. John, Hozian ended up heading to Jefferson for high school.
"I had played softball in the summer with girls like Ronda Carter, Di Anthony, and Michelle Miller, who were all real good athletes," she said. "We became real good friends. I wanted to be a part of their success."
When she got to Jefferson, the coach she first worked with most directly was Bartlett, who had Hozian for volleyball and JV basketball.
"I think of her a bit more in volleyball, but Coach Bartlett definitely helped start the winning tradition there," Hozian said. "I remember her as being very committed and very intelligent and how much she pushed me."
By time she was a sophomore, Hozian led the Jefferson JV's to a 19-1 record. But she was already capable of playing at the varsity level with girls like Anthony and Boggs and dressed for many of the games. Holmes probably would have utilized her more, but Hozian held herself back a little bit from really emerging on the varsity scene.
"When Traci first came in, she was the type of kid who as a sophomore really wasn't sure if she could contribute to the varsity team," he said "She could have started as a sophomore, but didn't want to make the older girls mad at her."
Still, Hozian contributed quite a bit to the success of the Falcons in 1987-88 season, assisting Jefferson to its first regional tournament appearance.
"She came in and hit some really key shots to get us a win over Madison up there," Holmes said. "She made a lot of key contributions during the season."
That first trip to regionals was an eye-opening experience for Hozian.
"Getting to regionals my sophomore yaer was a big thing," she said. "It helped me realize we could all be successful."
Hozian may have been a bit overwhelmed by the presence of Holmes, who already had established himself as one of the area's premier coaches.
"I was intimidated by him," she said. "I always remember him blowing the whistle and telling us to run. But, I also remember he created an atmosphere that was conducive to winning."
As time wore on, and as the years passed, Hozian developed a greater sense of her relationship with Holmes.
"He was the father I didn't have," she said. "He pushed me to become not just a great player, but a great person."
Holmes realized the basketball court was a place of refuge for his little point guard, one of the few places she truly felt comfortable. He tapped into that and watched Hozian blossom.
"After Di and Kelly and their group graduated, people would ask me where we were going from there," he said. " Traci and her group were the answer. They just kept the ball rolling."
It seems Hozian also had a unique sense of timing. Just as her career was taking off, the 3-point line was introduced in high school basketball, along with smaller ball for girls. She took complete advantage of those factors in her junior year, setting the state record for 3-pointers with 49, a mark that stood for several years after she graduated. In her senior year, she backed it up with 47 treys.
"At the beginning of my junior year, I think I began to see something really special could happen if we all continued to work hard," Hozian said. "I think I realized we had the opportunity to really be something special, and there was something in that for me. I think as a group, we decided we wanted to win the NEC championship in all three sports.
"I really didn't fully realize how good I could be until probably about the midpoint of my junior year. At first, I was just glad to be on the first team."
What a group it was, too. The basketball team had all the elements, from Hozian and Jurcenko creating havoc out front with their quickness, speed and athleticism, through forwards like Sue and Steff Nemet and Heather Kelner with shooting and rebounding ability and inside strength from players like Cheryl Coon, Jackie Whitbey and Wolf.
As much as the team benefited from Hozian's outside shooting, Holmes came to count on her floor generalship and ballhandling ability.
"Traci really stepped it up in her junior year," he said. "Probably one of the best parts of her game was her passing ability. She could get the ball to people in some incredible positions."
That junior season turned out to be a testing ground for Hozian and the Falcons for even greater things ahead.
"There were great expectations, going into my senior year," she said. "The pressure was on, and everyone was trying to stop me."
A lot of pressure was self-imposed.
"I was mainly worried about the team," Hozian said. "I wanted us to go to state. I wanted to try and break my record for 3-pointers and I wanted to keep my free-throw percentage up."
The Falcons and Hozian did a good job pursuing those goals. Despite defenses geared to stop her, she just missed her record for treys with 47 and was one of the main cogs in getting the Falcons back to the regional tournament, beating Villa Angela-St. Joseph for the district title. She was also a first-team All-Ohio selection.