Longtime Rockets coach retires
For the first time in 24 seasons, Maplewood’s girls’ basketball program will have a new face at the helm.
After nearly two-and-a-half decades leading the Rockets, longtime coach Mark Yoder retired from his position. Boasting a record of 368 wins and 182 losses, dating back to the school’s time in the East Suburban Conference, the Maplewood graduate brought plenty of success to the program over the years.
Fitting that tradition of returning home, stepping into the role to replace Yoder is Stephanie Pykare. Pykare, then-Schwartz, was a 2005 graduate of the program and this new responsibility is still sinking in for her.
As the former JV coach, she’s spent the last eight years working her way up the program and hopes to be able to build upon an already-solid foundation.
“It’s quite an honor. It’s humbling,” Pykare said. “I think just being a part of the culture of the program that he established. I feel a huge sense of responsibility to honor his legacy, move it forward and really try and jump it to the next level. I could never have done it without the groundwork he raised. He spent 24 seasons coaching and now that I see the time and sacrifice he has put into it, it is incredibly honoring and exciting to be a part of it.”
The theme of Maplewood alums stepping into the coaching ranks will continue with the JV team as well. Tara Gladd, 2001 Maplewood graduate and Yoder’s niece, will take over Pykare’s role this season.
For 2015 graduate Ryley Urchek, who was a part of the 2012-13 Maplewood team that finished 22-5 and reached the regional final, one memory stands out about Yoder. Urchek took a nasty spill, but was called for a block. Her temper got the best of her, but the longtime Rockets coach had her back.
“I was a rambunctious kid, so I wound up yelling at the ref and got a technical,” she said. “When I walked off the court I expected him to yell at me, but he high-fived me for standing up for myself.”
The Rockets were the top seed in the Rootstown District that season and they took out McDonald, Chalmers, Bristol, Lordstown and Lowellville en route to the regional final at Massillon Perry.
The team they lost to, Berlin Hiland, went on to the state finals, falling to Fort Loramie.
One sentiment was shared by Yoder’s former players. Whether it was the style of basketball they played, or running drills with the ball held over their heads, the gritty, hard-nosed mentality he taught left a long-lasting impact on them and has carried into their daily lives.
“I wound up getting my master’s degree, so he definitely taught me the value of hard work,” Urchek said.
Looking ahead, the Rockets return four senior starters from last season, as well as rotation players like rising sophomore Caleigh Richards, who won state titles in cross country and the 3200-meter run at the OHSAA track and field state championship this past spring.
Pykare is grateful for the chance to coach the senior class that includes Marissa Ventura, Emily Butler and Abigail Nay after being involved with the program for the last eight years and watching the girls develop in that timespan.
“I was a part of this group in their early years in the elementary school, and I have watched them grow as players and individuals,” Pykare said. “Coach Yoder really got the best out of them. We had a great run in the regular season and fell short in the tournament.
“Honestly, I would have been very understanding if he would have wanted to coach the senior class one more year and finish them out. They’re just incredibly talented on and off the court. Collectively, as a team, we really felt like we have a huge amount of potential to accomplish big goals, and make a good run in the tournament.”