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Thoughts of competing for a state basketball championship didn’t bounce around in the heads of Rogers seniors Sasha Dailey, Jasmyne Smith, and Keyanna Austin when they were teammates as sixth-graders.
Late-night conversations at the many sleepovers never centered around full-court presses, box-and-ones, and back-door plays. No, it was more clothes, candy, and boy crushes for the 12-year-old girls.
The trio — captains of the Rams — have come a long way and will lead unranked Rogers (24-4) against No. 2-ranked Kettering Alter (28-0) in a Division II state semifinal at 1 p.m. today at Ohio State’s Value City Arena.
“We always had intentions to continue playing, but we didn’t know we were going to continue taking it this far,” said Jasmyne Smith, daughter of Rams coach Lamar Smith.
The journey can be traced back to about six years ago when Lamar decided to get involved with coaching because his daughter showed interest in the game that he long had a passion for. It became an instant dad-and-daughter bonding opportunity, so he organized a sixth-grade team of players from various elementary schools.
Dailey and Austin were also part of the core of Smith’s original team — the Lady Owls, an AAU team that played out of Old Orchard Elementary. It didn’t take long for the Owls to become a force, winning back-to-back championships.
Smith’s coaching career progressed right along with his daughter. He became the DeVeaux Middle School coach while she was there and later took the opportunity to coach at Rogers.
The trio followed him to Rogers and have played on the varsity every year.
Seniors Tori Easley, Marquelle Williams and Tatyana Reynolds joined them at some point along the way and have been contributors to a successful run.
Former Rams standout Cha’Ron Sweeney, who plays at Eastern Michigan, was also part of establishing a winning program.
Dailey, an All-Ohio second-team selection, is a four-year starter and averages 11.2 points and 4.2 rebounds. She knows what it’s like to compete at the state level in sports, having helped the Rams earn a Division II state track and field runner-up finish when she was a freshman.
She was a state finalist in the 100 and 200-meter races, finishing as state runner-up in the latter.
Dailey said competing for a state title in basketball tops her track experience.
“I was a freshman so I didn’t realize how big a state runner-up in track really was at the time,” Dailey said. “That’s big, too, and it’s important, but it’s not that important to me because I don’t really love track. It’s just something that I do.
“But after it’s all said and done, and I realize I don’t have any more years here, it’s going to set in that I had a good four years here and I did a lot.”
Reaching the state tournament in basketball is appreciated more, she said, because it is a team sport.
“In track, it’s more of an individual sport,” Dailey said. “You’re on a team, but you’re more out there by yourself. For basketball, it’s always going to be a team win. The only way you’re going to win is to play together.”
Austin, who has been a key player off the bench, provides more than her 5.2 points and 3.5 assists per game. Like Jasmyne Smith (6.0 points, 2.0 assists), Austin brings leadership to a team.
It is a deep roster with sophomore standouts Akienreh Johnson (11.5 points, 5.5 rebounds), Keasja Peace (8.1 points) and Sidney Petty (5.2 points, 4.6 rebounds).
Austin also provides perspective to the route to Columbus.
“It’s been a long ride,” Austin said. “I’ve been playing for coach Smith since the sixth grade. When we were kids we would beat a lot of teams, and it would come easy. We would play high school kids when we were in the seventh or eighth grade.
“We didn’t realize we were going to come to high school together after DeVeaux, but when we got here as freshmen it was hard because we were so young. But we got used to it as it went on. It’s been a good ride to come this far in our senior year to make it to the state final four.”
The Rams are three-time City League champions.
They’ve earned three district championships and the school’s first regional championship after beating Bellevue 52-40.
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“It’s been a lot of hard work,” said coach Smith, who has a overall record of 84-19 (44-3 in the CL) and was named Ohio’s D-II co-coach of the year. “Seeing a group that came in that young and seeing where they are today, they’ve put in a lot of work.
“They put in a lot of training. They put in a lot of hills at Ottawa Park. These girls are dedicated in the summer. They run cross country, and they put up with my tough practices. We go through a lot of conditioning, and a lot of kids can’t play for me if you don’t want to work hard. These girls are very dedicated, and their bodies go through a lot, so it was a lot of work.”
There have been many more ups than downs, but three straight seasons the Rams fell short of their goal of reaching the state tournament were the biggest disappointments. They lost in a regional final a year ago to Clyde, a team they defeated in the districts this season.
“This is special because we were really close last year,” coach Smith said. “For the 2014 class, this is their last year, and it makes it even more special because they’re seniors. They came in with me as freshmen and went through a lot being freshmen on varsity.
“They played against older teams, battled with them, but did well. It’s their time. It’s very special, and I’m proud of them.”