Over the course of a long, hard season a good basketball team comes together like an extended family.
Nowhere is that more true than at Lake Ridge Academy, where a veteran team that starts four seniors and one junior has nurtured a freshman class that has provided depth to help the Royals win their first district championship.
Lake Ridge looks to keep that basketball family together all the way to the Division IV state championship — a trek that begins tonight when the Royals face Berlin Hiland in the regional semifinals at 8 p.m. at Perry High School.
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No one knows more about a basketball family than senior Sydney Clark. Clark grew up in gyms all across northeast Ohio as her father, and current Lake Ridge boys coach, Bernie Clark, amassed a coaching resume that including stops at Parma, Lakewood and Cleveland Central Catholic.
Clark, the Division IV Northeast Lakes District Player of the Year, said that growing up around the game has helped her to become not only a better player but to be able to understand the game from a coach’s perspective.
“It’s kinda like in my blood to be able to understand basketball,” Clark said. “Dad has been a coach since before my older sister Taylor was born and she’s five years older than me. So I’ve been around basketball as long as I can remember.”
If Clark’s accomplishments on the court, where she is averaging 12 points, eight rebounds, six steals and over three blocked shots a game for the Royals (22-3) aren’t enough, Lake Ridge coach Lisa Medvetz said her work on the practice floor and off the court has been just as impressive.
“We have a lot of great players on this team but Syd is something special,” Medvetz said. “Even when she is not giving you points, she is guarding the other team’s best players, she getting steals and rebounds. She’s that all-around player that every coach absolutely wants on her team. I haven’t seen a girl play as hard as she done in a long time.”
“Sydney is the type of person that everybody on the team can trust. The girls know they can confide in her. She understands where the coaching staff is coming from. With Sydney, it has almost been like having a graduate assistant in the program like they have in college.
Freshman CiCi McIntosh said that the influence of all the seniors — Clark in particular — has helped her through her first season. McIntosh, a 6-foot-2 forward, is averaging 4.2 points and four rebounds off the bench for the Royals.
“I was nervous at the beginning of the year. It took me until the middle of the season to really find my role on the team,” McIntosh said. “Sydney and I always talk a lot and she makes sure I am not nervous during games. It’s a good feeling to know that the seniors are looking out for you. Everybody has taught me so many things this year to make me a better player.”
Another freshman, Abbey Fossen, has put up 3. 2 points per game in limited minutes, while Jaden Carey is also contributing 2.5 points and three rebounds a game off the bench.
Clark hasn’t been the only senior growing into a leadership role this season. Medvetz said Kyndall Welllons has made tremendous strides on and off the court.
“I was worried about her at times at the beginning of the season,” Medvetz said. “But she has really become a presence on-court, both in games and in practice. We bumped heads a few times in the beginning but she has blossomed into a tremendous player and we have been lucky to have her on the court in a lot of big situations this year.”
Wellons, a 5-foot-7 shooting guard, is averaging nine points and three assists.
“I just want this team to win, so I know I have to play my best and help everyone else be the best they can be, too,” Wellons said. “The past few years, we’ve had a new coach every year and we’d lose a couple of games and everything would fall apart. This year, after we had the loss to Midpark to start the season, we just came back to practice determined to work even harder and prove to everybody that we could do this.
“The younger players have been crucial to our success. They work hard, and you know sometimes freshmen are scared when they get into games, but we try to congratulate them when they play hard and don’t get down on them too much when they make mistakes. We would not be here without them.”
Clark, who is still narrowing down her college choices, feels the team is ready for what could be its toughest test of the year against Berlin Hiland, which advanced to the state final just a year ago.
“The few losses we had this year were a learning process,” Clark said. “I started to feel confident in what we could do as a team after the North Royalton game. That showed us what we could do against a quality team.
“We had a big crowd that night to support us and I hope we have that again when we play Berlin Hiland because that is going to be the biggest game we’ve played all year.”
Contact Todd Shapiro at 329-7135 or email@example.com.