Derrick Webb, Staff Writer
WHEELERSBURG — When Ellie Kallner stepped onto the court as a freshman, people in Southern Ohio basketball circles knew that Wheelersburg had its next star point guard waiting in the wings.
Now, after three seasons of success with the Pirates, Kallner is preparing for one final year to make a run at a state title. She’ll be navigating through that season with the weight of a collegiate basketball decision off her shoulders.
On Sept. 9, Kallner committed to continue her academic and athletic careers at Concordia University Ann Arbor.
“I chose CUAA because when I stepped on the campus, I felt at home. Since the college is over four hours away, the ‘home’ feeling was very important to me,” Kallner said. “The coaching staff made me feel very welcome and their excitement was appealing. I’ve always dreamed of playing at the next level and I feel like Concordia was the best fit for me to pursue that. Coach [Kiefer] Haffey made it out to several of my travel games this summer and took a lot of time to watch and reach out to me. I felt like we connected well and his energy and love for the game was evident. The fast-paced playing style is something I can’t wait to be a part of.”
Last season, Kallner was instrumental in the Pirates’ 22-3 overall finish. The team also finished 16-0 in SOC II action, winning yet another conference title.
During that run, like always, Kallner had those closest to her available for guidance … including Wheelersburg coaches Dusty Spradlin and Tom Kaskey, as well as AAU coach Tuck Conner.
“[Spradlin] has crafted me into the leader that I am today. Playing for him for three years now, I’ve learned more than just basketball from him,” Kallner said. “He’s helped shape me into the point guard that I am, but he has, more importantly, shaped me into a better person. Coach Kaskey has also been very helpful to my game. He came in my sophomore year onto the coaching staff and brought a whole new energy to the team. [Conner] dedicated his time for three years to my game. He opened up multiple opportunities to allow me to play with some amazing people and against incredible athletes.”
Wheelersburg’s coaching staff also includes Ellie’s dad, Aaron, whose love for the game was passed down to both of his daughters. Abbie, Ellie’s older sister, is playing collegiately at Shawnee State.
“My dad was my first-ever coach. His intelligence and knowledge of the game crafted me into the player I am today,” Kallner said. “He took time to allow my sister [Abbie] and I to learn and appreciate the game we both love. His dedication to us made me fall in love with the game. Although he’s harder on me than some of the other girls on the team, I know he’s only trying to make me better and help me reach my full potential.”
Last winter, CUAA finished 18-13 overall and ended its season with a 77-58 loss to Grace College. The Cardinals finished 12-8 in the Wolverine-Hoosier Athletic Conference under Haffey, who will be entering his third year with the program in 2020-21.
Kallner, a true point guard, will have the chance to contribute for Haffey and company immediately. But that opportunity wouldn’t be possible without her family and teammates, who have pushed her to be the best she can be.
“My family has dedicated so much time towards my basketball. From AAU games to late night away games during the season, they’ve been there every step of the way,” Kallner said. “They’ve given up a lot to make sure I get to play the game that I love and I can’t be more thankful and blessed. For my teammates, I can’t be more lucky to have played with the people I have. From both school ball and AAU, I’ve played alongside some of my best friends. They pushed me, supported me, and made me better day in and day out. It’s truly a blessing to have played with some amazing athletes and people.”
Kallner, of course, still has one year left with her best friends. The Pirates will welcome her back, alongside a host of returners including Kaylee Darnell, Alaina Keeney, Lauren Jolly, Macee Eaton and Makenna Walker.
To say the least, they’ll be primed for another district title run.
“I’m more than ready and prepared for my senior year. I’ve got a few more months left to work and grind in the gym before games start, but I feel like we are ready,” Kallner said. “We will have a good team this year. I have a lot of dedicated, hard-working girls playing next to me and I can’t be more thankful to go into battles with them. Last year didn’t end how I wanted it to, and I think all of us have the same mindset and goals for this upcoming year. I’m going to make the most of my last year. It’s revenge time.”