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Published: Friday, 11/23/2012

Rogers sets bar high for season

BY DONALD EMMONS
BLADE SPORTS WRITER
Members of the Rogers basketball team include, from front Tori Easley; second row, Jasmyne Smith and Quelle Williams; back row, from left, Cha'Ron Sweeney, Sasha Dailey, and Keyanna Austin. Members of the Rogers basketball team include, from front Tori Easley; second row, Jasmyne Smith and Quelle Williams; back row, from left, Cha'Ron Sweeney, Sasha Dailey, and Keyanna Austin.
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There are expectations and then there are EXPECTATIONS.

The Rogers girls team tips off the 2012-13 season at Canton McKinley today facing the latter version.

The Rams, who return four starters from a team that finished 19-5 overall a year ago, are recognized by many as the team in northwest Ohio that’s most equipped to make a serious run at reaching a state tournament this season.

“I think we should make it all the way to Columbus,” said Tori Easley, the Rams’ 6-foot-1 junior frontcourt player.

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Since 2000, nine teams from northwest Ohio have at least made it to the state semifinals.

A third of the teams have represented the City League.

Start reached the state semifinals in 2009 and 2011. Waite marched to Columbus in 2010, and Notre Dame was a state semifinalist last spring.

Northview represented the Northern Lakes League in the state tournament in back-to-back years (2004, 2005).

Liberty-Benton has reached the state tournament three times (2009, 2010, 2012) and claimed a Division III state championship in 2010.

Archbold (2002), Eastwood (2001), Findlay (2007), Holgate (2001, 2003), Patrick Henry (2001, 2005, 2006), and Sandusky Perkins (2007) have also experienced reaching the state tournament.

The Rams, who won their first City League championship in team history, desire to join that prestigious list of area teams to have at least made it to the state tournament during this century. They’ll be pushing to participate in the Division II state tournament.

“I’ve never been to state, so I just want to make it to the final four,” said Rogers point guard Cha’Ron Sweeney, the lone senior on the talented Rams roster.

Rogers coach Lamar Smith, who is in his third season overseeing the program, believes advancing to the state tournament is a kind of validation that there’s top talent in the area.

“You would want for Toledo to be represented there every year,” Smith said. “So you want to get down there, but you’d also like to win a championship.

“Toledo has been producing good talent and getting down to Columbus. I think we’ve been doing very well, from Start to Notre Dame to Waite. We feel like we can get down there also.”

The Rams are a guard-heavy bunch with four-year starter Sweeney leading the way. She averaged a team-best 19.5 points and 5.0 assists as a junior even though most of Rogers’ opponents made a conscious effort to keep the Eastern Michigan-bound playmaker in check.

Her leadership and productivity is a key element to their performance.

“I think [Sweeney] is definitely improved, but she’s always played up in talent since I’ve been coaching her since elementary school,” Smith said. “I think this is her year. Now that she’s a senior I think her game has improved playing against top competition in AAU. She’s a floor general and I think she's going to have a huge year.”

Junior guards Sasha Dailey (15.0 ppg) and Jasmyne Smith are also capable backcourt players who have a knack for scoring. Smith, who is the coach’s daughter, is ready to go after sitting out her sophomore season with an injury. With Sweeney, they’re capable of averaging a combined 45 points per game. Keyanna Austin, a 5-2 junior, is expected to provide depth in the backcourt.

They all have the ability to be highly effective on-ball defenders when the Rams utilize fullcourt pressure, which is quite often during most games.

“We’ve been playing together since junior high, so we’re real used to each other,” Jasmyne Smith said. “We just know how each other plays.”

Easley, 6-2 junior Marquelle Williams and 5-8 junior Tatyana Reynolds will be pushed this season for minutes in the frontcourt by a pair of skilled freshmen, 6-2 Akienreh Johnson and 6-0 Keasja Peace.

“We have a lot of options,” Lamar Smith said of the Rams’ all-around depth heading into the season.

The Rams’ 2011-12 season ended in March when Lima Bath tripped up the Rams for a 63-59 victory in a Division II regional semifinal at Ohio Northern back.

It wasn’t the season-ending the Rams had hoped for.

"It was really devastating," Sweeney said, regarding the loss to Bath. "But, sometimes you win some, sometimes you lose some."

Memories of the season-ending loss back in March haven't escaped their thoughts. It remained with the Rams throughout the summer months and served as motivation throughout summer workouts and conditioning.

The agony of defeat has been a motivating push heading into this season for a Rams team that believes it has the talent to become a state tournament qualifier.

“We’re older now and have more confidence about ourselves,” said Easley, who is a team captain. “We've never been there before so we have to keep working.”

The Rams coach recognizes what they're up against as a preseason favorite to make a run at reaching the state tournament.

“A lot of people are expecting and want to see us down in Columbus,” Smith said. “We want it probably more than anyone. The girls are hungry for it. They trained hard. Some of them ran cross country and ran hills.

“My job as a coach, I want to keep the pressure off of the girls. I want to keep the game fun because a lot of people expect them to get down to Columbus. We are very aware of that and we're definitely hearing it.

“It’s going to be a tough task, but we're going to take one game at a time and see where it gets us.”

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



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