The Lakewood girls varsity basketball team has been taking out opponents left and right this season, and the Rangers kept up the momentum with a big 72-29 drubbing of conference rival Midview last Wednesday night.
The victory pushed Lakewood’s record to 11-1 and 3-0 in the West Shore Conference (now 12-1,
4-0 with the win against Rocky River on Saturday).
“I’m a master motivator,” Rangers head coach Mike Harper said of his team’s success. “You know what’s so funny, as a coach you preach things about team and integrity and character, and sometimes I think you try to say it enough so you believe it. But honestly, I don’t think we’ve caught lightning in a bottle with talent, I think we’ve caught lightning in a bottle with attitude. These girls are truly unselfish.
“Every team has a little bit of drama, it’s just natural,” he added. “But what I do think is that everybody respects what everybody brings to the table on the court. So you have a trust factor there, and that’s why you get that balance because you don’t have one girl out there saying, ‘I have to take all the shots’ or ‘I’m not going to pass it to this girl.’ I think that’s the key: They trust and respect each other.”
Despite the fact that the Rangers are a very young team with only one senior playing, the chemistry is undeniable.
“I think we’re a really close-knit team, not just on the court but off the court, and I think that shows,” sophomore Mikayla Harper explained. “We always play together no matter what happens – the petty little drama, the girl stuff – we always stick together.”
The talent throughout the team is evenly dispersed, allowing each member to assist in a Rangers victory.
“That’s the great thing, I think I’ve only had a high scorer no more than two or three games, and out of 12 games, your high scorers change five times. That’s pretty impressive,” Harper admitted. “We really are a balanced team. If one girl has a bad night, another girl is going to pick them up.”
According to Harper, the girls work through any hindrance that is put in front of them, admit their faults and continue to improve individually and
as a team through every game and practice. “They
work hard,” he said. “I told them at the beginning of the season there is no magic pill for this. If you want to be good and get good, it takes hard work, and
they show up for the gym every day. Our motto is ‘get better today’ and they do that; I’m proud of them for that.”
Not only are the players affected by obstacles, Harper is as well. He went from junior varsity coach last year to head coach of the varsity team.
“I think part of it is, I’m not just responsible for a team anymore, I’m responsible for the program,” he said. “One of the things that we’ve tried to do over the last handful of years is put a system in place where it’s run from the top down, so I know exactly what’s going on in my middle school program, travel, third- and fourth-grade girls. If you think about that, it’s a lot to oversee.
“It’s not just on-the-court basketball, it’s a lot of administrative stuff, making sure that you got the right pieces and parts in place to really run an effective program.”
The Rangers have been dealing with a short bench this season, with players missing due to injury and sickness. They include team captain Maggie Rowell, out with the flu, Taylor Shaw, with a back injury, Mackenzie Nekl, with a concussion, and Allison Mazzeo, with a torn ACL.
Regardless of these setbacks, Harper stays optimistic and positive about the team’s strengths.
“We’re pretty fast; we’re a fast, fast team,” he said. “We’re small, so we have to be quick, but I like it when we get the ball out. We’ve got a couple good decision makers that know what to do on fast breaks, and we use our speed. That’s truly the key to our success.”