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Published: Friday, 11/24/2006

GIRLS BASKETBALL PREVIEW: Waite isn t over

BY STEVE JUNGA
BLADE SPORTS WRITER
From left, Waite s Natasha Howard, Kenya Middlebrooks, Shareese Ulis, Anedria Allen and Stephanie Keaton are poised to have even a better season than last year.  The Indians  regional appearance was the first by a City League public school since 1984. From left, Waite s Natasha Howard, Kenya Middlebrooks, Shareese Ulis, Anedria Allen and Stephanie Keaton are poised to have even a better season than last year. The Indians regional appearance was the first by a City League public school since 1984.
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Considering what preceded the last two girls basketball seasons, it s still a bit difficult to fathom how far Waite has climbed since then.

Hovering near the bottom of the City League standings for all but a few seasons over the last three decades, the Indians ascent has been remarkable.

Although he tries to forget, ninth-year coach Manny May remembers his first season when the Tribe ended 1-18 in 1998-99, including a 120-13 loss at Central Catholic, and the records of 4-15, 5-14, 5-14 and 6-13 that followed.

Waite turned a corner in 2003-04 with the arrival of freshman guard Shareese Ulis, who joined sophomore Tatyana McNeal in the varsity lineup.

Those two would lead the way in 2004-05 as Waite grabbed the fourth seed for the City League playoffs, upset eight-time defending champion Central in the semifinals, then continued its Cinderella ride by beating Notre Dame Academy for the City championship.

Ulis, named CL player of the year as a sophomore, duplicated that honor last March after teaming with fellow first-team All-City player McNeal and steering Waite to a second straight City title.

The Indians kept on rolling in tournament play, knocking off three-time defending Division I district champion Northview in the district semifinals, then eliminating second-ranked, previously unbeaten Southview in the final.

Waite fell to Amherst Steele in the regional semifinal, the first regional appearance for a CL public school team since the former DeVilbiss High School reached a regional final in 1984.

We know everybody will be coming after us, Ulis said. Everbody s main focus [in the league] is Waite. So, we need to come to practice and work extra hard. I m looking forward to trying to win a third one. This is my last year, so I want to win the City and go farther [in tournament].

With the help of my teammates, I think we can do it again.

That loss to Amherst Steele is still with us. Ever since that night, everybody s main focus has been to work harder. We know we didn t play up to our standards.

Waite s achievements made believers of the opposition in northwest Ohio, and have even allowed May to reluctantly make a confirmation.

I can safely say it s a program now, May said. It s not a one-year wonder. From the seniors down to the freshmen, the kids really want to work hard to stay on top.

But it s a very competitive league, so it s going to be hard to stay on top.

May still has Ulis, who at 5-foot-7 and supremely talented at point guard, is arguably one of the best players ever to compete in the City League.

She took her bumps and bruises as a freshman on the varsity, and she really learned, May said. She s a gym rat. It s a great joy to coach to coach a kid of that caliber. She won t get a big head. She stays level and does what she needs to do.

We will sorely miss her after she graduates, but it s been a nice run with her and this group of kids.

Ulis averaged 19.1 points, six assists and four rebounds a game last year, and more importantly is the glue that bonds Waite s lineup together.

She can settle the team down when it needs to be settled down, May said. Basketball is a game of runs. When you have a young lady who can run the floor and be your general, be your coach on the floor, that s what makes it great. She knows how to get the best out of her teammates.

She makes people around her better. She gets open shots for people around her who, ordinarily, wouldn t get a shot off. She can break down a defense, get the ball to the open person, and she makes you [as a player] feel good about yourself.

But Waite s staying on top will have less to do with Ulis and more to do with how well the Indians can fill a void in their frontcourt

McNeal who contributed 13.2 points, 8.2 rebounds and some consistently relentless defense graduated, as did third-team All-City forward Briana Washington.

Losing both our post players from last year, we have to impress on these young kids how to be a post player of that caliber, May said. It s a trial-and-error teaching thing for the coaches.

May and the Tribe are counting on a highly touted newcomer to make up some of the slack. She is 6-3 freshman forward Natasha Howard, a product of Robinson Junior High.

She s still learning, May said of Howard. She was a great player on the AAU circuit at 14-and-under, and in junior high school. But now it comes to playing against bigger players closer to her size. Can she do the same things she did then? It ll be a learning process for her.

Also on the plus side, Ulis has her senior running mate at guard in Anedria Allen, a sharpshooting third-year starter who contributed 11 points, three assists and three rebounds in 2005-06.

I think it can be done with a lot of hard work, a lot of trust in your teammates and a lot of effort, Allen said of bidding for a third straight crown. We have to put more work than what we put in the first year and the second year.

Once we get more dedication we re ready to start our journey. It s definitely going to be a challenge. The key will be to trust one another and work hard together. If you don t push your teammates, who else will? If we can keep that mind-set, I feel we can achieve any goal we have.

Another returnee in the starting lineup is 5-9 junior forward Kenya Middlebrooks, who added 10 points and six boards.

Stephany Keaton, Sam McNeal and Lauren Sneed are also expected to make significant contributions.



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