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Published: Wednesday, 2/10/2010

Express going full-steam ahead

BY RYAN AUTULLO
BLADE SPORTS WRITER
Llanas Llanas
NOT BLADE PHOTO Enlarge

If a contest existed to best describe Owens Community College women's basketball coach Michael Llanas in the fewest number of words, Sarah Clark would probably have it sewn up.

"He's always talking," Clark said of the gregarious Llanas.

With one exception.

Owens players learned this preseason they are capable of silencing their beloved coach, if only for a moment. So dominant was the Express in the opening minutes of their first exhibition game that Llanas was too giddy to speak. His assistants weren't able to provide much analysis either.

"Within a couple of minutes when we were up 10-0, I looked at the coaching staff and they did one of the Michael Jordan shrug of the shoulders," Llanas said.

If all ends well, the Express will style another signature act of No. 23 - hoisting a championship trophy.

Ranked fourth in Division II of the National Junior College Athletic Association, Owens is piecing together the best season in school history and should be a key player in national championship conversations. The Express arrive to tomorrow's home game against Lorain Community College -

5:30 p.m. at the Student Health & Activities Center - 22-2 overall (8-0 in the league) and riding a 15-game win streak. The closest margin of victory during that stretch: 11 points. Overall, Owens, a member of the Ohio Community College Athletic Conference, has outscored its opponents 82.8 to 58.9.

Blanton Blanton
NOT BLADE PHOTO Enlarge

"I really didn't know what to expect coming in as a freshman," guard Jasmine Blanton said. "But I am overwhelmed."

Following back-to-back 20-plus win seasons, Owens was 18-12 a year ago.

Blanton, who prepped locally at Notre Dame, leads the team in scoring with 16.7 points per game, playing both guard positions. She's one of six team members who

attended high school in The Blade

coverage area, and Llanas boasts that four of his freshmen earned All-Blade honors last year.

Even though he has made northwest Ohio his main recruiting base, that doesn't mean Llanas only stays in the area to assess local talent. For instance, Llanas first saw Blanton play during her sophomore year at a summer tournament in Indianapolis.

"It's easy to go to a City League game to recruit, but over the summer when those City League kids are seeing you watch them play in Indianapolis, watch them play in Columbus, watch them play in Pennsylvania, they can see we're out there working," said the sixth-year coach.

Other area players on the team are: Perrysburg's Demi Moschetti (7 ppg, 4.9 rebounds), Anthony Wayne's Jordan Floyd, Patrick Henry's Saige Meyer, Whitmer's Ashley Hooker, and Genoa's Brittany Darling.

It's not puzzling to understand why Darling, a 6-foot-5 sophomore, has generated interest from 15 Division I programs, including Rutgers, Clemson, and the University of Toledo. In addition to averaging 13.7 points, she has been a lane-changer defensively, corralling 10.8 rebounds and averaging 3.6 blocks.

As strong as Owens was in that first scrimmage, only so much emphasis can be placed on an exhibition. A more advanced test came in the second game of the season, when the Express attended a tournament at Indian River Community College in Florida and drew the host Pioneers in the first round.

A Division I member at the junior college level, Indian River plays with four members signed to NCAA Division I programs.

"They had the music blaring and those kids were jumping up and slapping the rim," Llanas said. "We're this pale team walking in from Ohio - the coaching staff had shorts on - and we're just happy to be in Florida in November."

In a 69-64 win over a team now ranked 13th in the nation, Owens players discovered resiliency to complement their talent. Blanton said she knew special things were on the horizon when Clark's head slammed viciously to the floor during a shot attempt - her teammates feared a concussion - and yet she was able to shrug off dizziness to make both free throws.

"I just had to suck it up because we weren't about to lose that game," said Clark, who nearly averages a double-double with 11 points and 9.6 boards.

One of the games Owens did lose was a one-point setback to top-ranked Schoolcraft Community College on Nov. 29. The teams appear on course to meet again in the regional tournament, which to the Express' delight, is held at Owens.

"I think we'd have a better chance because we've been playing a lot more games and we're more experienced and have more chemistry now," Blanton said.

Contact Ryan Autullo at:

rautullo@theblade.com

or 419-724-6160



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