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Published: 11/23/2012 - Updated: 1 year ago

Rogers favored once again to be champs; Start, Waite look to chase perennial favorites for crown

BY DONALD EMMONS
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

Rogers can be considered the prohibitive favorite to repeat as City League champion.

The reigning Rams have all the pieces in place to make defending the league championship potentially an easier task than winning it for the first time in school history.

“We'll see how it goes because we know how everybody is gunning for us,” Rogers coach Lamar Smith said. “Even in our City League we’re not going to take anything lightly. We’ll take one game at a time.

“We’re definitely aware that we can’t let the girls get big-headed. The City League teams are still going to compete with us and we’re aware of that. Start and Waite — we think they’ll be challenging.”

Nonetheless, the Rams have many letter winners back from last year’s team that dominated the league. Point guard Cha’Ron Sweeney is a four-year starter and serves as the team leader.

Start, Bowsher and Waite head into the season optimistic about making their own push toward the top of the CL standings.

Start coach Leon Kynard said he thinks the Rams will have to work for another championship because he expects the rest of the CL not to back down. More significantly, Kynard is counting on his team to measure up with the Rams.

“I have a team with a lot of speed,” Kynard said. “Given the situation, we want to switch up our defenses to make teams figure out what we’re doing.

“We’re a year older. We’re more mature and we should play a little more poised.”

Kynard also has a roster with many talented returners from a team that experienced its share of success during his first season as coach.

Waite coach Manny May said he thinks the league race will be more competitive than perhaps most expect it to be, but he still gives the early season advantage to the defending league champions led by a talented backcourt trio of Cha’Ron Sweeney, Sasha Dailey and Jasmyne Smith.

“The majority of their team played varsity basketball last season and their point guard, Cha’Ron Sweeney, she’s going to Eastern Michigan,” said May, of Rogers. “And the two juniors [Dailey and Smith] on the wings are already seasoned players.

“Their team’s intensity is already there.”

Scott and Woodward have hopes of becoming more competitive than they were last season.

However, the CL title appears to be the Rams’ to lose more than it is for any other team in the league to win.

Here is a look at the teams in predicted order of finish:

ROGERS

Coach: Lamar Smith, third season

Last season: 19-5 overall, 12-0 CL

Top players: Senior Cha’Ron Sweeney, 5-3, PG. Juniors Sasha Dailey, 5-8, G; Jasmyne Smith, 5-9, G; Tori Easley, 5-11, F; Marquelle Williams, 6-2, F; Keyanna Austin, 5-2, G; Tatyana Reynolds, F. Freshmen Akienreh Johnson, 6-0, F-C; Keasja Peace, 6-2, F-C.

Outlook: The Rams’ goals are simple and clear, according to the Rams coach.

“This season’s goals are to win another City League championship, stay healthy and make a state run,” Lamar Smith said.

The defending league champions are heavy favorites to repeat as CL title winners. They’re a team built to win, if not win big on most nights. It’s a team loaded with experience and talent.

Sweeney (19.5 points, 5.0 assists) — the only senior on the roster — is the leader on a team loaded with talent in the backcourt.

Dailey (15.0 points) and Smith’s daughter, Jasmyne, who sat out last season with an injury, are as good as any junior guards in the area. They’re expected to share the backcourt duties along with Sweeney.

Yet, there’s plenty of talent in the Rams’ frontcourt. Easley and and Williams saw plenty of action a year ago when Rogers ripped through the league without experiencing a defeat en route to claiming the team’s first CL title.

The addition of Johnson and Peace, who are considered two of the state’s top freshmen, add to the Rams’ depth and talent.

As difficult as it was for CL opponents to try to contend with the Rams a year ago, CL opponents may find it even more challenging to compete with the Rams this season.

START

Coach: Leon Kynard, second season

Last season: 19-5, 7-4

Top players: Seniors De’Angela Hicks, 5-11, G-F; De’Shayla Mosby, 5-10, F; Jasmine Bobo, 5-10, F; Torie McDuffy, 5-7, G; Tayma James, 5-7, G. Juniors Kendra Jones, 5-6, G; Chelsie Randolph, 5-5, G.

Outlook: The Spartans experienced a stellar campaign a year ago during Kynard’s first season as coach.

Yet, their successes were a bit overshadowed by CL rival Rogers, which swept through the league unscathed to claim the league championship. With four starters back in uniform, led by seniors Hicks (18.0 points, 11.00 rebounds) and McDuffy (12.0 points, 5.0 rebounds), the Spartans head into the season believing they’re worthy of challenging Rogers for league bragging rights.

“I think we’ll be one of the tougher teams to beat because we’re senior-oriented and they know this is the last year,” Kynard said. “But I know Rogers is the team to beat.”

Kynard has a roster that matches up well with any team in the league. Mosby (8.0 points, 5.0 rebounds), James (6.0 points, 3.0 rebounds) and Bobo (5.0 points and 4.0 rebounds) are returners expected to make even greater contributions this season coming in more experienced and more skilled.

A strong start to the season for the Spartans could help establish the kind of team chemistry and overall mindset for a group looking to make a move for the title.

Of course, knowing that their main rival from a year ago remains a potential roadblock to their goal of winning a league championship this year is motivation for a team looking to capture more than just respect.

WAITE

Coach: Manny May, 15th season

Last season: 12-8, 8-4

Top players: Seniors Kre’Ana Henry, 5-11, F; Kayla May, 5-4, G. Junior Taylor Works, 5-10, G-F; Latisha Craig, 6-1, F-C. Sophomore Ramiah Henry, 5-8, G.

Outlook: The Indians are among the teams considered contenders for the CL championship. Kre’Ana Henry (13.5 points, 10.0 rebounds) is one of three starters back from a team that came up short on experience when it came to competing against Rogers and Start. A more experienced group this season perhaps makes the difference in the Indians pushing for a league title.

Works, Craig and Ramiah Henry are also returning contributors who give the Indians at least a starting unit to be reckoned with.

“We will need to rebound better than we did last year,” said May, the Indians’ longtime coach. “Our quickness will be our strong suit.”

The Indians coach believes establishing good team chemistry early in the season could go a long way for a team looking to make its mark and give the defending league champions something to think about.

“Rogers is No. 1,” May said. “I think competitive-wise it’s going to be great for the league. I think it’s wide open.

“Rogers has a slight edge because they were 12-0 in league last year. But I think a lot of others will be fighting for that No. 2 spot.”

BOWSHER

Coach: Louis Davis, fourth season

Last season: 8-12, 5-5

Top players: Seniors Daija Rayford, 5-5, G; Shi Smith, 5-3, G. Juniors Katelyn Westhoven, 5-11, F; Celeste Wade, 6-0, C; Rachel Maurter, 5-7, G.

Outlook: The Rebels are among the teams who desire to push the league favorite Rams.

Whether or not the Rebels are capable of competing with the Rams and making some serious noise in the league will come down to how well the team continues to improve over the course of the season.

“We will be able to play several players at multiple positions,” Davis said. “If we stay healthy, I see us having a very successful season (because) the girls are a year older and a year wiser.” Rayford and Smith are the two top seniors on a team whose experience will be challenged throughout the CL schedule.

Marter, Wade and Westhoven are also returners expected to provide steady and consistent play while pushing to improve upon last season. Yet, the Rebels are among the CL teams still trying to establish an identity.

And that could end up as a season-long process for Bowsher.

“We have to develop a quality bench to help our starters,” Davis said.

SCOTT

Coach: Leon Washington, second season

Last season: 7-12, 2-8

Top players: Seniors Erica Besteder, 5-4, G-F. Juniors Basia Gary, 5-3, G; Jariesha Dillard, 5-2, G.

Outlook: The Bulldogs are looking to turn things around this season.

They’re trying to make the most out of a team lacking depth and experience in comparison to the CL front-runners.

Besteder, Gary and Dillard represent the leaders of a Bulldogs team looking to make strides from year one to year two under Washington.

Finding out what the rest of Scott’s roster is capable of doing on the court will be a priority during the early weeks of the season. A good showing by the Bulldogs’ inexperienced players would be a step in the right direction for a team seeking a turnaround.

WOODWARD

Coach: Thom West, second season

Last season: 1-19, 1-9

Top players: Juniors K’Shauna Barnett, 5-10, C; Andrea Johnson, 5-3, G; Ashley Pitts, 5-10, F; Millisha Fitchpatric, 5-4, G.

Outlook: Showing steady improvement and becoming more competitive in league are on the Polar Bears’ agenda.

With a roster limited on talent in comparison to the league favorites, the Bears coach is expecting to see a team that shows great effort each time out on the court.

“We still suffer from our previous record,” West said. “We have less experience this year than we did last year. For us to win we must improve our day-to-day intensity.”

Barnett represents the top returner for a team short on experience.

Contact Donald Emmons at: demmons@theblade.com, 419-724-6302 or on Twitter @DemmonsBlade.



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