Rocky River forward Hydeia Harvey had a feeling her junior year would be different entering this season, but even she didn’t expect what’s taken place with the Ravens’ girls basketball team.
Harvey led Rocky River in scoring last year, averaging 12.2 points per game, and also topped the Ravens in rebounds (5.6) and assists (1.9). Her strong season was rewarded with Harvey being named the Ravens’ lone representative on the Southwestern 4A’s all-conference team.
With her already-impressive resume, Harvey figured she’d have to increase her productivity if the Ravens were to improve upon last year’s finish, when they went 11-14 and set the single-season school record for wins.
Rocky River has increased its win total each of the previous three seasons, but went 21-50 during that stretch, including an 0-21 beginning in 2010.
This season has begun very differently.
Harvey has done what she set out to do and is having another all-conference caliber season while averaging 12.4 points and leading the Ravens in rebounds (10.1), steals (3.0) and assists (2.0). And while Harvey has upped her game, the addition of two freshmen – guards Ariana Nance and Ta’ Naeschia Dorsey – have the Ravens off to their best start in school history (8-2 through Dec. 27).
Nance said Rocky River’s talent was evident when she first arrived from Northeast Middle School, but the Ravens weren’t playing together.
“We’re playing way better as a team,” said Nance, who is third on the team with 11.3 points per game. “When we first got here, we all had our own independent games that we were playing. Our first couple of scrimmages we were off, but since then we’ve been playing as a team and we’ve started to connect more and bond more and as a result we started playing better.”
Coach Odis Gadson is excited for what lies ahead, as the Ravens have continued to bond and put together a solid start to the year.
“We went through the stage where people were taking us lightly, but I tell this team that if we concentrate on what we’re trying to do as a team, they aren’t going to have a choice but to not take us lightly,” the second-year coach said. “Whatever attention we’re starting to get, I told the girls to keep focused on practice and getting better.”
The results of the team effort speak for themselves. The Ravens have lost to nationally ranked Myers Park and dropped an early-season game to perennial power Ardrey Kell, but they’re developing different ways to win nearly every time they’ve stepped on the court.
Dorsey, an Albemarle Road Middle School product, leads the team with 16.7 points per game, and poured in a career-high 27 in a 68-56 win over East Mecklenburg on Dec. 19.
But the Ravens have relied on whoever has the hot hand as Dorsey, Harvey and Nance have each taken their turn being the team’s top scorer in games this year.
“The talent on this team is really up from year’s past. We have good guards and we have been playing well together,” Harvey said. “We try to spread it around and get everyone involved. We’ve seen that we play way better when we play together and work as a team. We’ve each had a couple of high-scoring games and we try to spread it out and play team ball.
“The best thing is there isn’t any pressure on just one person. We can all handle the ball, we can shoot it and it helps make us better if we’re all involved. It makes us hard to defend.”
Gadson agrees, and said he’s excited from where the Ravens have come and where they can get to, especially considering how the freshmen have blended with holdovers Harvey and the Ravens’ supporting cast.
“They make life easier as a coach,” Gadson said. “They’re definitely fun to watch and it’s going to be great to see them together (this year and next). They’ve gotten better each game and I’m glad to have them on my team.
“To start from the bottom and be able to work our way up is a great feeling and I want our girls to feel the benefits of that. The girls like Hydeia, Simone (Williams) and Jasmynn (Keyes) have been there for three years and started at humble beginnings. I want them to enjoy the fact that we can flex our muscles a little bit this year.”
While the bulk of the scoring lies in the capable hands of Harvey, Dorsey and Nance, the Ravens are getting contributions up and down their roster.
Keyes, a junior forward, averages 3.8 rebounds and 3.4 points per game and along with sophomores Jordan Soares (7.9 points, 5.6 rebounds) and Makayla Carter (7.3 points, 4.3 rebounds), and freshman Shalimar Tart (4.3 rebounds, 3.3 points), have helped lay the foundation for the hot start this season and give the Ravens added scoring and rebounding depth.
“This is the best team that we’ve had here,” Harvey said. “The athletic ability for this team has risen so much from the past couple of years and even from last year. We have a team of young minds and they’re ready to learn and ready to listen. That’s what has been the biggest difference.”
While it’s been a major uptick for the Ravens this season, they’re not resting on their hot start. Gadson knows that if his team has snuck up on people to begin the season, teams are certainly starting to notice their potential. But even with added expectations, he feels his team can handle whatever is thrown their direction.
“As far as people coming after us, our three guards are up to the challenge,” he said. “They’re ready for it. We try to prepare them for different situations, for whatever happens, but they will be ready for what comes with (success).
“It’s really good to get off to a quick start and I just want to stay focused and make sure we can maintain it.”
Maintaining their hot start – by far the best in school history – is on the minds of the players, as well. But they see this as just the beginning.
“I think we can go far and be the best,” Dorsey said. “If everyone plays their best, we can be the team to beat this year.”
And while the Ravens will certainly be a tough test for any team this season, there is optimism that if they can continue to improve at the rate they already have and stay together, the sky really is the limit for the surging Ravens.
“I honestly think we can be a championship team,” Harvey said. “We’re becoming sisters as our relationships grow. With us being together for two more years – that’s a long time – so I think if we can keep rising we can become a championship team.
“We’re playing well right now, but we can be better if we keep improving and working together. This team will be all together for at least two more years, and that’s exciting to be a part