Sasha Dailey steals a pass intended for Waite's Latesha Craig. Dailey averages 12.6 points. Rogers is 17-3, 10-0 in the City League, and ranked No. 8 in Division II in Ohio.
Cha'Ron Sweeney is on the last leg of her stellar high school basketball career.
Cha'Ron Sweeney goes to the basket against Waite's Taylor Works. Sweeney leads the Rams with a 15.6 scoring average.
The lone senior on Rogers wants to extend it for as long as possible.
Toriana Easley of Rogers makes a pass against Waite's Ramiah Henry. Easley, a 5-foot-11 junior, averages 9.1 points.
Yet Sweeney, a 5-foot-3 point guard, is ready to make the most of the Rams' run at attempting to finish off the year playing in Columbus in the state tournament.
"I want to end my senior year out the right way," Sweeney said.
Akienreh Johnson, a 6-foot freshman, is averaging 10.2 points and 7.0 rebounds.
Sweeney and the rest of the Rams, ranked No. 8 in Division II, were considered one of the state’s top teams before the season tipped off. At 17-3 overall and 10-0 in the City League, the defending City League champions are performing as predicted.
What's left for the Rams is to finish as one of the best.
However, the Eastern Michigan-bound point guard isn't making any bold predictions about the Rams making it all the way to Columbus for the state tournament. That's a scenario that has alluded the Rams the past two seasons, primarily due to Lima Bath.
Bath bounced Rogers out of the tournament with a 63-59 win in the regional semifinals last season. Bath stopped Rogers in a district final two years ago.
"I see it as we take one game at a time," Sweeney said. "I know our abilities and what we can do, but it depends on what we will do."
The Rams are all on one accord when it comes to focusing on one game at a time.
Sweeney serves as the band leader running the show.
But Rogers coach Lamar Smith makes it clear the Rams don't succeed with their senior guard performing as a solo act.
"She's very big for us, but we try not to lean on her," Smith said. "She is little and a point guard, so she can't do it all, so we're also leaning on other players on our team.
"They understand that [Sweeney] is fearless and has a lot of heart, but basketball is a team sport. Everyone else has to step up. We know teams are going to be keying on her, so everyone else has to do their part and we'll be fine."
And Sweeney agrees.
"It's a team thing," Sweeney said. "It's not me making something work. It's about everyone has to play their part."
Smith, whose team looks clinch a second straight City League title this weekend, is looking for the Rams to make a strong postseason showing after suffering only three losses during the regular schedule. Furthermore, defeats on the road to Canton McKinley (62-55), D-I No. 1 ranked Twinsburg (69-45) and Cincinnati Winton Woods (55-48) aren't necessarily major causes for concern.
The setbacks can serve well in regards to experience for the Rams’ players just as much as their wins.
"We're working hard right now and I'm very pleased where the young ladies are right now because they're playing well as a team," Smith said. "I'm liking what direction we're heading in."
It's a Rams team that's as loaded with talent as it's ever been during Smith's three-year stint.
That group has plenty of playmakers, leading with Sweeney, who averages a team-best 15.6 points.
Sasha Dailey, a 5-8 junior guard, may be playing the best basketball of her high school career. A three-year varsity player, Dailey is averaging 12.6 points on a team that has five players basically averaging double figures.
Akienreh Johnson, a 6-foot freshman, averages 10.2 points and a team-leading 7.0 rebounds. She has come on strong after being inserted into the starting lineup after 5-9 junior guard Jasmyne Smith, the coach's daughter, went down with a knee injury in a game against Notre Dame just before Christmas.
Toriana Easley, a 5-11 junior, has been good for 9.1 points per game while also serving as one of the Rams' most experienced players in the frontcourt.
Smith, who was averaging 9.1 points before going down with the second knee injury in as many years, will require knee surgery after the season.
However, the Rams are holding out hope she may be able to play a few minutes off the bench during the tournament run with the aid of a knee brace.
If not, the Rams have a bench that's perhaps deeper than most. Marquelle Williams, a 6-2 junior, Keyanna Austin, a 5-2 junior, and Tatyana Reynolds, a 5-8 junior, give the Rams plenty of experienced backup depth. Keasja Peace, a 6-2 freshman, has also come along to help in the frontcourt.
Easley said this year's team has has a better mindset heading into the tournament.
"Last year we were too caught up in trying to get to state, rather than just playing our game and trying to win," Easley said. "This year, we're in our books, come to practice and work hard every day."
A year ago, the Rams posted a 19-5 overall record that ended with the disheartening loss.
This year’s team is perhaps more unified and focused unit, according Smith.
"This team is a lot faster," Smith said. "We have a little better execution of plays this year. They're a little older, too. A lot of them are juniors and they have the experience under them. I'm really excited about this year.
"I liked last year's team," he added, "but I'm really enjoying this this because of the Xs and Os — they're getting a lot of that down and we're happy with the progress."
One of their strengths this season has been fullcourt defensive pressure.
"It was a whole different team last year," Sweeney said. "We had bigger players last year. This year we're smaller, but we make up with speed what we can't make up for in height and we play hard. It's not going to be easy."
Contact Donald Emmons at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6302 or on Twitter @DemmonsBlade.
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