A year ago, the Rogers girls basketball team struggled to find a real challenge during City League games.
That probably won’t change this year.
The two-time defending champions, who have five players signed to play in college, are unanimous favorites to win the title again.
“This team can be as good as last year’s team and actually could be better,” Rogers coach Lamar Smith said.
The Rams are led by a talented senior class that includes Sasha Dailey, Tori Easley, and Jasmyne Smith. It’s a group plenty motivated after losing to Clyde in a Division II regional final last season.
“We got a taste of the regional final last year,” coach Smith said. “It was disappointing, but also we were pleased to get there.
“They know what it’s about and what it’s going to take to get there. We’re going to make it fun, and we’re not even thinking about tournament time.”
The Rams are taking a trip during the Christmas break to participate in a 16-team tournament in Naples, Fla.
There were times the last seasons when the Rams relied on point guard Cha’Ron Sweeney, who averaged 16 points a game. Sweeney is now playing at Eastern Michigan.
“It’s hard to replace Cha’Ron because she’s a special player,” coach Smith said. “But our leadership will come from Jasmyne and Sasha. Akienreh Johnson is playing very well.”
Start, Scott, and Waite should contend the runner-up spot.
“Rogers has the most [talent] coming back, so they have to be No. 1,” Waite coach Manny May said.
The Indians came on strong down the stretch last season and are looking to ride that momentum.
Here is a look at the teams in predicted order of finish:
Coach: Lamar Smith, fourth season
Last season: 24-4 overall, 12-0 CL
Top players: Seniors Sasha Dailey, 5-8, G; Jasmyne Smith, 5-9, G; Tori Easley, 6-1, F; Marquelle Williams, 6-2, F; Keyanna Austin, 5-3, G; Tatyana Reynolds, 5-8, F. Sophomores Akienreh Johnson, 6-0, F-C; Sidney Petty, 6-2, C; Keasja Peace, 6-2, F-C. Freshman Brelynn Hampton-Bey, 5-7, G.
Outlook: The Rams are once again the City League’s favorite with an overwhelming talent advantage.
A third straight undefeated run through the CL schedule en route is expected.
Smith has eight returning letter winners, including six seniors who were freshmen when the coach took over the program, so there’s plenty of team chemistry.
Dailey (11.8 points), Johnson (9.8), Williams (8.7), Easley (8.6) and Smith (8.2) offer plenty of scoring for a team that prefers to play uptempo. Johnson averaged 7.1 rebounds.
The Rams are also expecting immediate contributions from newcomers Petty and Hampton-Bey. Petty is expected to provide help for the Rams in the low post after transfering from Central Catholic. Hampton-Bey, who has already verbally committed to Michigan, has plenty of potential to make an impact.
Coach: Leon Kynard, third season
Last season: 11-11, 8-3
Top players: Seniors Kendra Jones, 5-7, G; Chelsie Randolph, 5-6, G. Juniors Aloe Jackson, 5-7, F; Quasia Turner, 5-2, G. Sophomore Brittney McDuffie, 5-6, F.
Outlook: The Spartans proved trouble for most teams in the league a year ago. Outside of Rogers, there isn’t a another team that returns with as much experience.
Jones (8.5 points, 3.0 rebounds) returns as one of the league’s top shooting guards and gives the Spartans a consistent scoring threat from the perimeter. She’s being asked to fill the void left by the graduation of leading scorer Torie McDuffie (12.3 points). Randolph (6.0 points, 4.0 rebounds) is another returner looking to help the Spartans.
McDuffie (5.0 points, 4.0 rebounds) is one of the top underclassmen and should provide an active wing player.
The Spartans prefer to play an up-tempo pace.
“Our strengths are we are very athletic and fast,” Kynard said. “Our defense should cause teams a lot of problems. We will look to push the ball this year.”
Turner, a Central Catholic transfer, is also expected to contribute.
Freshmen Miriah White, Michela Perdue, and Maya Jones should see time on the court as Kynard intends to utilize the bench.
Coach: Darrell Dorn, third season
Last season: 1-16, 0-10
Top players: Senior Myleena White, 5-9, F. Junior Dreyona Johnson, 5-5, G. Sophomores Symone Palmer, 5-7, G; Laquelle Jacobs, 5-9, F; Dailana Lane, 5-8, F.
Outlook: All indications are the Bulldogs will be improved this season.
It’s a young and inexperienced roster with no returning starters, but it's a team Dorn is confident can get better.
“We will be successful when we can match execution with our energy level,” Dorn said. “I feel we are getting better every day.”
White (4.0 points, 3.0 rebounds), Jacobs and Lane provide decent size in the frontcourt and should help address concerns about rebounding. Johnson and Palmer are expected to provide leadership in the backcourt, although both lack experience.
How quickly the Bulldogs come together as a cohesive unit will determine if they can contend.
Coach: Manny May, 16th season
Last season: 8-12, 6-4
Top players: Seniors Taylor Works, 5-10, G-F; Latesha Craig, 6-2, F-C; Yatiah Caldwell, 5-8, G; Shareena Gary, 5-9, G. Junior Ramiah Henry, 5-8, G.
Outlook: The Indians mostly held their own in the CL last season, but struggled outside of the league.
May hopes to see a turnaround this season. With five key returners, he is optimistic.
“We expect to compete and play hard,” May said. “We expect to play better than we played last year.”
Craig (10.0 points, 10.5 rebounds) returns as the team’s best all-around offensive player. She provides Waite with an inside presence.
Caldwell (8.2 points) and Works (7.0 points) were reliable contributors a year ago who are expected to provide even more offensive output.
“Rebounding and our man-to-man defense will be key for us,” May said.
The Indians made a strong surge during the second half of last season. A faster start this season could go a long way for them.
Coach: Louis Davis, fifth season
Last season: 4-15, 3-7
Top players: Seniors Katelyn Westhoven, 5-11, F; Celeste Wade, 6-0, C; Rachel Maurter, 5-7, G.
Outlook: The Rebels enter the season with plenty of reasons to be optimistic.
Wade (11.4 points, 14.5 rebounds), Marter (10.1, 5.3) and Westhoven (6.6 rebounds) stand at the forefront for the Rebels’ optimism to end the year among the top teams in the league.
Bowsher’s senior trio makes up one of the top returning groups in the CL.
Finding depth to complement the senior class will play a major role.
Coach: Thom West, third season
Last season: 5-17, 3-7
Top players: Seniors K’Shawna Barnett, 5-10, C; Andrea Johnson, 5-3, G; Ashley Pitts, 5-10, F; Millisha Fitchpatric, 5-4, G.
Outlook: The Polar Bears are looking to move up in the CL after.
Barnett (21.0 points, 12.1 rebounds) is not only the team’s best returner, she’s one of the top talents in the league. She gives the Polar Bears a a consistent scoring threat around the rim and proved last season she’s good for a double-double most games.
Johnson, Pitts, and Fitchpatric are also expected to do their part in helping the Polar Bears improve.