The three Eli sisters’ 12-year reign comes to a close

J. Patrick Eaken

        For 12 consecutive years, Oak Harbor and Genoa girls basketball coach Tom Kontak has had one of the Eli girls to coach.
        First came Simone’s four years playing at Genoa, and then Athena and Sophia followed over the next eight years while Kontak headed up the Oak Harbor girls program.
        Sophia, a 5-foot-6 guard, reached the 1,000 point plateau this year and is heading to Goshen College, an NAIA school, in southern Indiana to continue her basketball career.
        Sophia finished her four-year career at Oak Harbor scoring 1,146 points, averaging 11.9 points, 3.7 rebounds, and 2.5 assists.
        “It’s been great — a lot of great, great memories,” Sophia said. “I’ve played with some amazing players throughout the four years. My freshman and sophomore years were definitely learning years, pursuing to become a player. Then my junior and senior year I had to step up more as a main player. My four years, I’ve learned a lot. I’ve become a better player on the court, off the court.”
        Her role has always been evolving over four years, averaging in consecutive years 9.2 points her freshman season, 10.7 points as a sophomore, 13.7 last year and 14.3 this year. She also averaged 3.8 rebounds, 3.5 assists and had 39 steals this year, finishing her career with 161 steals. She is a repeat first team Alan Miller Jewelers All-Press selection.
        “Sophie has been a four-year starter for us, and every year she has had a different role for us,” Kontak said. “As a freshman and sophomore she was with some solid ball clubs that we had. She’s played as a two-guard in kind of a subordinate role, and then here the last couple years, especially this year, she has been the go-to player.
        “I’m really pleased and happy with her leadership. It’s really been more of an off the floor leadership role. She has always been a scorer, but the last half of this year, her senior year, she has taken control in a real positive but high level leadership with a group that has needed her leadership — hands on, on the floor, and in the locker room.”
        Sophia finished her high school career with 98 three-point goals, including the corner baseline three that got her over the 1,000 point mark.
        “It was on a broken play, actually, that ran wrong,” Eli said. “(Junior guard) Kaitlin Paul found me and I was open. It was one of my goals since my freshman year — that’s the first thing for my individual goals that I had and hoped to get by the time I graduated.
        “Now that I’ve moved up among the top people in school history — that is crazy. I wanted to make my mark on Oak Harbor basketball and I hoped that I did. I just passed my assistant principal (Alison Wolf) on the scoring column, which is cool because we are close, and she was fourth so I’m fourth now. Just seeing all the fans — you know, you don’t really realize how much they are cheering for you whether you know them are not. It’s just a great feeling overall.”
All in the family
        One of the biggest reasons there has been an Eli on Kontak’s roster the last 12 years is that the girls’ father, Art Eli, stayed on as an assistant coach. For dad, once a standout player in his own right, it was a treat watching Sophia develop into the player she is today.
        “She came in as a freshman athletic, but raw,” Art said. “Every year that she’s played, her role has changed. The first year, her role was to be open somewhere, play good defense, and if you have an open shot, knock it down. That was the year that we beat Zia Cooke (Rogers/University of South Carolina) to play in the district finals. Zia never got beat after that in the tournament, but she kind of remembers that.”
        Art says separating family from basketball was always a challenge.
        “It’s never easy because her father is the coach here, and I’m still her father at home and it’s hard not to talk about it when we are at home,” Art said.
        Sophia adds, “My dad has been a huge part of all my siblings’ success, especially Simone and me with basketball. Simone went to BG (Bowling Green State University), which got her a (broadcasting/media) job, which is where she’s at now and it led to her success and I’m hoping it does the same thing for me, going to Goshen.
        “I’m pursuing nursing, so playing basketball is obviously helping me getting my nursing degree. He’s definitely been a huge part of it. There are definitely times when we don’t see eye to eye, and that’s how coaching works. We know when he’s a dad and when he’s a coach, and he makes sure we know those two different ‘people.’ He’s been a huge part of my success,” Sophia continued.
        “He got sick two years ago and he was gone for 16 days, in ICU, and that was probably the hardest. I didn’t really realize how hard it would be until the first game when he wasn’t there and I teared up at the beginning because it was weird not having him there.”
        It isn’t just Art, but the neighborhood rivalry growing up in the same neighborhood as former Genoa basketball player Jacob Plantz, who now plays at Lake Erie College in Painesville, Ohio.
        “We’ve grown up together. We’ve been playing basketball outside since we were in grade school. That is a huge part of my life and now I’m excited for my future and what’s in store, for sure,” Sophia said.
        Sophia says you can throw in coach Kontak, too — and not just from basketball.
        “He’s been coaching all my sisters — I’m the third — 12 years now actually with me, Athena, and Simone. He’s definitely a father figure to me. Just like with my dad this all starts even before basketball. We know each other outside of basketball — our families are close and we’ve been close for years, ever since Simone was at Genoa and when (Art) coached at Central (Catholic).
        “He’s definitely a huge influence on me and I look up to him as a person. I’ll definitely thank him one day for pushing me as hard as he did and especially playing at the collegiate level and life in general, with a job, because he pushes us and tells us every day that we are going to be pushed hard in life. I’ll thank him one day for pushing me hard.”


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