For the first time in 24 seasons, the Maplewood women’s basketball program will have a new face at the helm.
After nearly two and a half decades at the helm of the Rockets, longtime coach Mark Yoder has retired. Boasting a record 368 wins and 182 losses, dating back to school days at the East Suburban Conference, the Maplewood graduate has brought great success to the program over the years.
In keeping with this homecoming tradition, Stephanie Pykare takes on the role of replacing Yoder. Pykare, then Schwartz, was a graduate of the program in 2005 and this new responsibility still falls to her.
As a former JV coach, she has spent the past eight years working her way up the program and hopes to build on an already solid foundation.
“It’s quite an honor. It’s humiliating “, said Pykaré. “I just think I’m part of the culture of the program he established. I feel a tremendous sense of responsibility to honor its legacy, to take it forward and to really try to take it to the next level. I could never have done it without the basics that he raised. He spent 24 seasons as a coach and now that I see the time and sacrifice he put into it, it’s incredibly rewarding and exciting to be a part of it.
The theme of Maplewood alumni entering the coaching ranks will also continue with Team JV. Tara Gladd, a 2001 Maplewood graduate and Yoder’s niece, will reprise the role of Pykare this season.
For 2015 graduate Ryley Urchek, who was part of the 2012-13 Maplewood team that finished 22-5 and reached the regional final, one memory stands out of Yoder. Urchek took a nasty spill, but was called in for a blockage. Her temper got the better of her, but the longtime Rockets coach backed her.
“I was a rambunctious kid so I ended up yelling at the ref and got a technique.” she said. “When I came out of the field I expected him to yell at me, but he congratulated me for defending myself.”
The Rockets were seeded in the Rootstown District that season and knocked out McDonald, Chalmers, Bristol, Lordstown and Lowellville en route to the regional final at Massillon Perry.
The team they lost to, Berlin Hiland, reached the national final, losing to Fort Loramie.
A sentiment was shared by former Yoder players. Whether it was the style of basketball they played or performing drills with the ball overhead, the tough and uncompromising mindset he taught left a lasting impact on them and continued into their daily lives.
“I ended up getting my masters, so he definitely taught me the value of hard work” said Urchek.
Looking ahead, the Rockets are returning four senior starters from last season, as well as rotating players like young aspiring student Caleigh Richards, who won state titles in cross country and the 3,200-meter race in the OHSAA State Track and Field Championships last spring.
Pykare is grateful for the chance to coach the senior class which includes Marissa Ventura, Emily Butler and Abigail Nay having been involved in the program for the past eight years and seeing the girls develop during this time.
“I was part of this group during their early years in elementary school and watched them grow as players and individuals,” said Pykaré. “Coach Yoder really got the best of them. We had a good run in the regular season and failed in the tournament.
“Honestly, I would have been very understanding if he had wanted to coach the senior class one more year and finish them. They’re just incredibly talented on and off the pitch. Collectively, as a team, we really felt that we had huge potential to achieve great goals and have a good run in the tournament. “