Hannah Plybon emerges from small town to captain of University of Akron women’s hoops team

(The following story is an alternate version of what will appear in the Jan. 9, 2014 edition of OrrViews in Orrville, Ohio)

ORLANDO, Fla. – It didn’t take long for Hannah Plybon to showcase the kind of impact she could have at the highest level of college basketball.

Hannah Plybon (left) earned as spot on the All-MAC Freshman Team a year ago.

Hannah Plybon (left) earned as spot on the All-MAC Freshman Team a year ago.

On the heels of successful runs in three different sports during her senior year at Orrville High School in Ohio, Plybon made an immediate impression on coaches and teammates upon her arrival at the University of Akron.

Plybon worked her way into the starting lineup as a freshman before her rookie season ever got underway, on a team featuring six seniors that had returned from a 23-win campaign.

Plybon has since blossomed into a leader at Akron, on a squad that opened the 2014-15 season by winning its first 10 games.

She’s now less than a year removed from being named to the All-MAC Freshman Team after starting 32 of 33 games for the Lady Zips, who qualified for the NCAA Tournament and won the Mid-American Conference for the first time in school history.

Not bad for someone hailing from small-town America, where the pride of being hometown to former college coach Bobby Knight and a jelly manufacturer is offset by two decades worth of factories closing shop and families relocating elsewhere.

“I knew how great the talent was coming back on that team,” Plybon said of her freshman season on Dec. 17 following a 73-64 win against UCF in Orlando, Fla. “I knew the opportunity would be there for us to have a good year and I just wanted to be a part of it any way possible, so I contributed any way I could in every single workout.”

The effort is clearly paying off for Wayne County’s all-time leading scorer and the 2013 Division III Player of the Year. Plybon was named a team captain this season – as a sophomore – and is seeing a spike in production as she closed out December averaging 11.4 points per game (third on the team) while shooting just under 41 percent from 3-point range, up 10 points from a year ago.

“Her role last year was a lot different than what it is today,” Akron coach Jodi Kest said. “She wasn’t the first option, she wasn’t the second option, and there wasn’t much pressure on her last year. But I knew she was a great scorer in high school when taking the ball to the basket and she really worked hard on her 3-point shot, which is really important in how we run our offense.”

Plybon averaged 20.9 points, 7.6 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 1.7 steals during her high school career at Orrville, where their run-and-gun tempo made for an easy transition as she finished her freshman season at Akron averaging 7.1 points (fifth on the team) in 25 minutes per game.

“Now this year it’s a little bit different. We made her a captain because of her work ethic and how coachable she it,” Kest said. “She comes to practice everyday with a good attitude and I know I can count on her and her intensity. She just loves to be there and that’s a great thing for a coach, to have players you know you can count on, and so it’s been a pleasure for me to be coaching her. To think that I have two and a half more years left with her is outstanding.”

Plybon had connected on at least two 3-point shots in each of Akron’s first 10 games, including a recent stretch where she knocked down four from long range in three of four outings, before the Zips (10-1) suffered their first loss on Dec. 29 at Youngstown State.

Bill Morgan, play-by-play voice of the Lady Zips, paid homage to Plybon’s hometown on Twitter last month by proclaiming, in hashtag form, that she had a “shot sweeter than Smucker’s.” The tweet came after Plybon knocked down four 3-pointers and scored 17 points against Bethune-Cookman on Dec. 15 in Daytona Beach.

Morgan has seen Plybon emerge as a key factor for Akron from the opening tip of her college career.

“Hannah’s big contribution her freshman year was her basketball IQ,” Morgan said. “She came from a really good high school program, and because of that she was maybe more prepped for what they see at the college level.

“Coach Kest is widely known for having a very big playbook and you have to be not only a talented basketball player, but pretty intelligent to be able to come in and understand her system, especially for a first-year player, and Hannah was somebody who certainly fit into that category.”

Plybon has made the most of her upbringing as a student-athlete in Orrville. She’s relied on her faith and family, some of whom made the trip by car to Florida to see her play last month, along with countless coaches who’ve helped her excel in volleyball, basketball, and track and field. Each of those teams qualified for their respective state competitions during her senior year.

“Every coach I’ve ever come across, they’ve always wanted to win. That’s what you have to strive for and that’s what’s stuck with me the most,” Plybon said of her roots. “Coming from Orrville you have to play more than one sport because we’re so small, and when it came to basketball, which is the sport I love and knew I wanted to play in college, it was all about work ethic. That’s what’s helped me in getting to where I am and where I want to go.”

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