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Playing career takes flight: Lorain grad Alex Harris excelling after transfer to University of Dayton

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    Alex Harris pulls down a rebound for the University of Dayton in a game against UMass.

    PHOTO PROVIDED

Alex Harris’ journey back to the NCAA Tournament required a change of scenery.

Harris, a redshirt junior, transferred to Dayton after two years at Penn State and has become a force in the paint for the Flyers, Appearing in all 31 games with 23 straight starts, Harris is averaging 8.1 rebounds and a team-high two blocks. She’s grabbed at least 10 rebounds 12 times.

The Lorain graduate may not score a ton — she’s only averaging 5.8 points on the season with three games in double figures, two resulting in double-doubles — but she did save her best all-around game for the Atlantic10 Tournament semifinals in Richmond, Va., on March 4.

Harris grabbed a career-high 18 rebounds to go with 12 points and three blocks, while shooting 5-for-6 from the field and 2-of-3 from the free throw line in a 75-65 win over St. Louis.

Her monster tournament resulted in 32 rebounds, 24 points and six blocks, helping the top-seeded Flyers win the championship and earn the automatic berth in the NCAA Tournament. Dayton takes on fifth-seeded and traditional power Tennessee on Saturday at 4 p.m. in Louisville, Ky.

“It’s something that you never forget,” Harris said. “Winning championships, being around a group of girls that you know everything about and are with 24/7. It’s something you take with you for the rest of your life. It’s been an amazing process and now we have the NCAA Tournament. We’re having a lot of fun.”

Harris saw plenty of action at Penn State, appearing in 47 games with one start in two seasons. She recorded her first career double-double with 11 points and 10 rebounds against Northwestern on Jan. 25, 2015.

She did make a brief appearance during Penn State’s NCAA Tournament run in 2014, playing for one minute in an 83-61 win over Florida in the second round. Brief appearances were common throughout her tenure with the Nittany Lions, as she averaged just 10.6 minutes a game for her career.

She wanted more time on the court to develop, and sought a school that was closer to home.

Enter Dayton.

And while Harris had to redshirt last year, she used it as a chance to improve. She said first-year Flyers coach Shauna Green told her she was a little passive aggressive, so she worked on developing an attack mentality and sought to push her teammates as hard as she could in practice.

Still a year removed from seeing game time, Harris knew she made the right choice long before she hit the court.

“I’m really a family person,” Harris said. “I felt that I made the right decision. I made a lot of connections with my teammates that took me into this year. I just knew the game would follow and it would be easy because of the strong bond that we have.”

She credits that bond as the foundation for this year’s run to the NCAA Tournament. The Flyers bounced back from a 14-15 season to go 22-9 overall and 13-3 in the A10, winning the regular-season and tournament championships.

The joy of winning the titles took awhile to wear off. Harris said the team wore its championship shirts to class in the days immediately following the tournament final. But it’s safe to say with a tall challenge in Tennessee, led by Diamond DeShields, the projected No. 1 pick in the 2017 WNBA Draft, the Flyers are refocused.

“We stayed in that moment for a couple of days, but we had to move on,” Harris said. “We want more. We strive for more. We want our seniors to go out as big as they can.”

Contact Chris Sweeney at 329-7135 or ctsports@chroniclet.com and follow him @CSweeneyCT on Twitter.

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