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The newcomer from West Frankfurt adapts to the American lifestyle and style of play < Illinois


WEST FRANKFORT — Like any other 14-year-old 15-year-old American freshman, Kateryna Honchar is simply trying to blend in with her peers as best she can.

And if getting through that awkward period in her life wasn’t difficult enough for a young girl, imagine having to do it in a foreign country.

Honchar is a native Ukrainian. She moved to southern Illinois five years ago with her mother, Nina, and her brother, Losha, who is now 12 and a student at Central Junior High School in West Frankfort.

Honchar is slowly but surely becoming fluent in English. She has also become an honor student. In short, she fits in well with high school life — perhaps better than many of her American friends.

Honchar is now trying to make a name for herself as a student athlete. This year is her first full year of basketball. The 6-foot postal player was a member of the eighth grade team a year ago but spent the year recovering from a knee injury and learning the basics of the game and only competing in practice, not actual games.

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However, last summer Honchar got her first real taste of live game action at camps and is now proving her talent with junior varsity and occasional varsity with the Frankfurt High School Redbirds.

“Kateryna works extremely hard,” said West Frankfort girls’ coach Jason Thrash. “She’s quite talented, but she’s already learned a lot and is still learning more about the game.”

Thrash said the upper class of the Redbirds roster took Honchar under their wing, so to speak.

“They encourage her and love her. It’s really pleasant to see. Kateryna is definitely a favorite with all girls.”

Thrash said the newcomer’s potential was limitless.

“Kateryna is really long and has a big wingspan,” he said. “She walks the floor well. Defensively, their size and range have already affected our opponents’ shots. Offensively, she works hard to learn post moves and develop a ball shot. And there is no communication problem. She has very good knowledge of English.”

Honchar said cross country was the first sport she competed in as a junior high student, but decided to broaden her horizons through basketball.

“A lot of my friends played basketball and I thought I’d give it a try,” she said. “I like to play very much. I like the teamwork that makes up the game. In Cross Country everything is individual. In basketball you have to work together with your teammates. It helped me a lot to play ball in the summer. This experience made a big difference in my development.”

Honchar said she is working diligently on her post moves to become a reliable goalscorer.

“I like it when I learn from my mistakes,” said the newcomer. “Learning makes me better. I’m fine defensively, but I still need to improve my shooting a lot.”

Honchar said math is her favorite subject at school, with physical education a close second. She is also a member of the Science Club, Travel Club and Drama Club and will soon be rehearsing for a crime presentation scheduled for February. She plans to attend college after graduating from FCHS.

“Right now my goal is to get more playing time with varsity – and improve my free throws,” she laughed.

Honchar said her teammates treated her very well.

“They all support me so much. I couldn’t ask for more,” she said. “I really enjoyed making so many new friends.”

While the teen has adjusted well to life in southern Illinois, the day’s world news was certainly an uncomfortable distraction. The war that has devastated her homeland and claimed many lives discourages Honchar and her family.

A paternal grandmother – Olga – lives in Ukraine, in a town that remains occupied by Russian forces. A maternal grandmother moved to southern Illinois.

“At first it was hard to watch the news every day,” she said. “But fortunately almost all of my relatives made it out of the country. I know four cousins ​​and an aunt are all in Spain. I keep in touch with my grandmother, who is still there, through my father.”

Honchar said she does not blame the Russian people for the atrocities committed against the Ukrainian people.

“They were pretty much brainwashed by Putin,” she said. “He knows exactly what he is doing. There is no turning back for him. In the end I think Ukraine will win the war. We will never give up.”