Harris personifies toughness for Tiffin University women’s basketball

Ask Jessica Harris how she’s feeling, and she’ll tell you she’s fine, even as she’s limping.

Ask her about personal accomplishments, and she’ll tell you she doesn’t care. All that matters to her is winning.

Harris has played for Tiffin University for parts of five seasons, but those two things have never changed. Well, that, and her strong play underneath the basket.

The only thing, it seems, that can stop Harris from playing for TU is the fact that her eligibility will run out after this season.

“Five years here, I just, I love the team I’ve played with,” she said. “I love the coaching staff, I love how everyone always gave 100 percent effort.”

Effort was never something TU coach Pam Oswald has had to worry about from Harris. She injured her back in her freshman season and missed most of the year, gaining a medical redshirt. It took her more than a year, even after coming back, to be reasonably healthy.

“She’s dealt with the back and everything else,” Oswald said after Tiffin’s 77-46 loss to Ashland, Harris’ final home game. “I never heard a complaint from her from Day One. She’s a class act.

“I have no idea what her pain is like. I never hear a complaint from her; I always have to ask for her, because she’s that blue collar worker. She wants to do whatever it takes to help her team win.”

Harris has helped the Dragons win plenty of games over her career.

Last season was not only a great one for the program – Oswald’s 2011-12 team notched 21 wins and advanced to the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference semifinals – but a great one for Harris. She averaged about 10 points and nine rebounds a game, but those numbers don’t reflect a torrid close to the season, when the Dragons were coping with the loss of senior Holly Focke to injury, and needed someone to step up.

Harris stepped up.

Over her last four games of 2011-12, Harris averaged 15 points and 14 rebounds, teaming with then-senior guard Mandy Jaeb to create a powerful two-headed monster opposing teams continually struggled with.

Jaeb, one of the best guards in TU history, was a pinball, bouncing off opponents, running past them and playing with an uncontainable spark that gave opposing coaches fits.

Harris was and is steady, tough and tenacious.

The team had other very good players, including Focke, Jennifer Johnston and Karli Mast.

But it was Harris and Jaeb who always seemed to come up with the big play.

This year has been a challenge for the Dragons. The graduations of Jaeb, Focke and Johnston, and injuries to Mast and newcomer Jordan Fraley have been difficult for the team to overcome, and the team’s goal of reaching the GLIAC Tournament for the third-straight year faded during a rough patch in the past few weeks.

It has fallen to Harris and guards Stephanie Kelly and Melissa Gilliland – the team’s other seniors – to lead this group to the finish line.

As always, Harris has been up to the task.

She’s averaging 10.2 points and 10.5 rebounds a game. Once again, she’s finishing strong.

She had 13 points and 15 points in Thursday’s loss to Lake Erie, and in Saturday’s loss to No. 2 Ashland, had 13 rebounds and seven points.

Those totals put her in rare company. She went over 1,000 points for her career Saturday. If she gets five rebounds in the team’s regular season finale at Ohio Dominican next Saturday, she will become the first player in program history, and only the second in all of Tiffin basketball – men or women – to finish her career with 1,000 points and 1,000 rebounds.

Impressive, right? Harris didn’t seem to think so. The only numbers that matter to her are the Dragons overall and Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference records (11-14, 8-13, respectively).

“The wins are better,” Harris said when asked about her achievements. “I do it for my team. I don’t do it for any other reason.”

Harris is not going anywhere yet; she’s slotted to be a graduate assistant for Oswald next season.

But Harris, who played her first game for the Dragons in 2008, won’t be wreaking havoc on GLIAC courts anymore.

For opposing coaches, that’s probably a relief.

For the rest of us, it’s too bad.

It’s been a special career.

Zach Baker is the sports editor for The Advertiser-Tribune.

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