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Elswick gives Shawnee State women’s basketball team much-needed inside scoring threat

Ironton Lady Fighting Tigers’ senior Nikki Elswick signed a letter-of-intent Wednesday to play basketball at Shawnee State University. Attending the ceremony were: seated from left to right, brother Steven Elswick, father Steve Elswick, Nikki Elswick, mother Rhonda Elswick, and Shawnee State head coach Robin Hagen-Smith; standing from left to right, Ironton assistant coaches Cory McKnight and Beth Campbell, Ironton head coach Doug Graham, and Ironton assistant coach Danny Pride. (The Ironton Tribune / Tony Shotsky of Southern Ohio Sports Photos)

By JIM WALKER

Tribune Sports Editor

The Shawnee State Golden Bears needed to rebuild their team from the inside out. With the signing of Ironton Lady Fighting Tigers’ senior Nikki Elswick, the inside is finished.

The 6-foot senior with a long wing-span filled a major need for Shawnee State Hall of Fame head coach Robin Hagen-Smith Wednesday by signing a letter-of-intent to join the Bears’ women’s basketball program next fall.

“I think she can score inside and that’s what we’re going to need next year. She has the opportunity to play right away,” said Hagen-Smith. “She’s used to double and triple teams now, but in our system the girls outside can score more and that will free her up.”

Elswick was entertaining offers from a dozens schools including Eastern Kentucky, Ohio Dominican and Rio Grande. She said location and opportunity swung her to sign with the Golden Bears.

“I wanted to stay close to home. I can be home in 45 minutes or less,” said Elswick.

“I wanted to go somewhere that I had the opportunity to play. I don’t want to just be a practice player. Shawnee offers me the opportunity to play. Now it’s just up to me.”

So far this season, Elswick is averaging 27 points and 11.3 rebounds as Ironton is off to a 3-1 start. In a marquee matchup against Talequia Hamilton of Huntington (W.Va.) High who has signed with Cincinnati, Elswick had 25 points and nine rebounds.

Ironton coach Doug Graham said Elswick should flourish in a Shawnee State’s strong program that has produced an NAIA national championship.

“Shawnee has a good program that should challenge Nikki,” said Graham. “She’ll have to earn her time, but they’re in real need of a post player and she can take advantage of that.

“Her improvement from her freshman year to now has been dramatic and she’s improving every day. She has the tools to play there and be a good player.”

Elswick began her offensive improvement last season when she worked her way into the starting lineup and ended the season averaging 10.8 points and 8.3 rebounds a game

The Lady Fighting Tigers advanced to the state tournament for the third time in school history and Elswick was named to the state all-tournament team.

“She’s got a lot of potential,” said Hagen-Smith. “If she works and hangs in there, she’ll be a good player for Shawnee.”

Elswick is looking forward to the chance to play.

“It’s a great big opportunity. Coach Hagen-Smith needs a player who can get in the paint and score 20 points a game and I think I can do that,” said Elswick.

Also an outstanding volleyball and softball player, Elswick’s versatility on the court also caught Hagen-Smith’s eye.

“She has the ability to shoot the ball from the perimeter and for a center that creates a lot of problems for defenses,” said Hagen-Smith. “She has the work ethic and she can run up and down the floor.”

Playing in the tough Mid-South Conference will also be another challenge for Elswick as she steps from high school to the college level, but she is excited about the opportunity.

“I’ve been to Shawnee for games and I’ve been in that atmosphere. The players get along well and they play ball together and that’s what I like,” said Elswick.