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    HomeLifestyleWest Frankfort freshman adapts to American lifestyle, play style

    West Frankfort freshman adapts to American lifestyle, play style







    Kateryna Honchar, a freshman at Frankfort Community High School, is originally from Ukraine and moved to the United States in 2017. While other relatives have fled the country, she still has a grandmother in the Russian-occupied city of Kakhovka.



    Byron Hetzler



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

    And if working through that awkward time in her life wasn’t difficult enough for a teenage girl, imagine having to do so in a foreign country.

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

    Slowly, but surely, Honchar has become fluent in English. She has also become an honors student. In short, she is fitting in to high school life just fine – perhaps better than many of her American friends.

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

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    This past summer, however, Honchar got her first true taste of live game action in camps and is now showcasing her talent with the junior varsity, and occasionally, the varsity for the Frankfort high school Redbirds. 

    “Kateryna works extremely hard,” said West Frankfort girls coach Jason Thrash. “She’s pretty raw talent-wise, but she has already learned a lot and continues to learn more and more about the game.”

    Thrash said the upperclassmen on the Redbirds squad have taken Honchar under their wing, so to speak.

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

    Thrash said the freshman’s potential is limitless.

    “Kateryna’s really long with a big wingspan,” he said. “She runs the floor well. Defensively, her height and reach have already affected the shots of our opponents. Offensively, she’s working hard on learning post moves and developing a shooting touch. And there is no communication problem. She has very good English skills.”

    Honchar said cross country was the first sport she participated in when a student in junior high, but decided she wanted to expand her horizons with the addition of basketball.

    “A lot of my friends were playing basketball and I thought I would give it a try,” she said. “I really enjoy playing. I like the teamwork that is involved in the game. In cross country, it’s all individual. In basketball, you have to work together with your teammates. For me, it helped so much to play ball over the summer. That experience has made a big difference in my development.”

    Honchar said she is working diligently on her post moves in an effort to become a reliable scorer.

    “I like it when I learn from my mistakes,” the freshman said. “Learning is what will make me better. Defensively, I am doing OK, but I still need to improve my shooting a lot.”

    Honchar said math is her favorite subject in school with PE being a close second. She is also a member of the science club, travel club, and drama club and will soon be rehearsing for a murder mystery presentation scheduled for February. She plans to attend college after graduating from FCHS.

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

    Honchar said her teammates have treated her very well.

    “They are all so supportive of me. I couldn’t ask for anything more,” she said. “I have really enjoyed making so many new friends.”

    While the teen has adjusted well to Southern Illinois life, the world news of the day has certainly been an unpleasant distraction. The war that has ravaged her homeland and caused great loss of life is disheartening to Honchar and her family.

    A paternal grandmother – Olga – remains in Ukraine in a city that remains occupied by Russian forces. A maternal grandmother has relocated to Southern Illinois.

    “It was hard at first to watch the news each day,” she said. “But fortunately, most all my relatives have made it out of the country. I know four cousins and an aunt are all in Spain. As for my grandma who is still there, I stay in touch with her through my dad.”

    Honchar said she doesn’t blame the Russian people for the atrocities committed against the Ukrainian people.

    “They have pretty much been brainwashed by Putin,” she said. “He knows exactly what he’s doing. There is no way back for him from this. Ultimately, I think Ukraine will win the war. We will never give up.”

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