November 22, 2014

Elyria
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Girls basketball: After two years of chaos, Lake Ridge is back in the game — and winning

Don’t tell Lake Ridge Academy to beat up on teams its own size. The Royals have figured out it’s more fun to beat up on teams four times their size.

After a two-year stint in the Ohio High School Athletic Association wilderness, the Division IV Royals appear to be back on track with a 10-2 record with six of those wins coming against Division I teams.

The Royals announced their return to relevance in late December by winning the Cleveland Height Holiday Tournament, knocking off defending Division I district finalist Westlake along the way before defeating a Cleveland Heights team that is currently 8-4.

When Lisa Medvetz, who was known as Lisa Verhoff when she played for Elyria High and was named Lorain County’s Miss Basketball in 2002, took over as Lake Ridge coach prior to this season she knew she would have her work cut out for her.

Not only had past recruiting violations saddled the Royals with a two-year postseason ban, but she was also the team’s third coach in as many seasons.

“I knew I would be coaching some exceptionally talented young ladies but other than I really didn’t know what to expect when I got here,” said Medvetz, who was a guard in college for the Division I Indiana State Sycamores. “Being their third new coach, I thought it might be tough to get through to the girls. But they’ve adjusted well to the new system and, knock on wood, it seems like we’re finally putting the pieces together.”

Lake Ridge Academy plays an independent schedule, which means for the past two years the Royals didn’t even have as much a conference title to play for. In fact, last season the team only played 15 games.

That made it a lot easier for Medvetz to get the players to buy into a new system, even one that came with high expectations and demands.

Senior guard Sharday Baines said she knew this year would be different as soon as the team had its first meeting with Medvetz.

“When I first met coach I could tell that she had faith in us and believed we could succeed,” Baines said. “We’re actually running an offensive system this year with set plays. We didn’t do too much of that last year.”

Baines, a three-year varsity player, leads the team in scoring at 12.6 points a game and assists with 5.2. She and fellow seniors Sydney Clark, Monet Saunders and Kyndall Wellons all transferred to lake Ridge when former hoops powerhouse Regina High School, which won six state championships between 2000 and 2009, shut its doors for good in June of 2010.

“The past two years have been tough but I just had to get over,” said Baines, who said she has to wake up every morning before 5:30 a.m. to make the trip to the school from her East Cleveland home. “If we keep working hard I think we can go far in the tournament and hopefully win it all. As soon as I met Coach Lisa I knew this year would be different and it has made everything worth it.”

Since starting the season 2-2 the Royals have rattled off eight straight wins, six of which have come on the road or at a neutral site.

“We knew we’d have to work hard and make adjustments to be ready for the playoffs because we haven’t be able to go for the past couple of years, so we want to be ready to go as far as we can go,” said Saunders, a 6-0 forward who averages 11.6 points and 10.5 rebounds. “Coach told us before the season that we had to work hard and believe in ourselves. Going out and getting on a winning streak has helped to show us what we’re capable of.”

The Royals have something most Division IV schools don’t have and that’s depth. Clark is also averaging better than 10 points as well as leading the team in rebounds and steals. Wellons and junior Selena Benz are both averaging over six points.

The second half of the Royals’ schedule, which includes home games against North Royalton (8-4) on Wednesday and St. Joseph Academy (12-0) on Feb. 6, should have the team well-prepared for the postseason.

Medvetz, like most coaches, is already thinking about the future and trying to insure that Lake Ridge is on the path to becoming a perennial power and not just a flash in the pan.

“I envision building a program where girls can not only take advantage of the great education they will receive at Lake Ridge but also become great basketball players and to have a coaching staff that cares about their success on and off the basketball court,” said Medvetz, who was an assistant coach at Notre Dame College for five seasons before coming to Lake Ridge. “I know there is a lot of basketball talent in Lorain County and in the surrounding communities and we’re hoping to interest those girls in what we have to offer here both academically and athletically.”

Saunders said her high school basketball experiences have helped to prepare her for the next level of basketball and, most importantly, for the next chapter of her life.

“When I was in ninth grade at Regina I thought I’d have three state championships already,” she said. “Things didn’t turn out that way but I’m going make a decision in the next few weeks where I’m going to play basketball in college and I’m working as hard as I can to win a championship this year. “This team has great chemistry this year and we know we have to keep working for everything and not take anything for granted.”

Contact Todd Shapiro at 329-7135 or ctsports@chroniclet.com.