RUSSIA — A senior-laden Anna team got off to a slow start last season. But with a group of underclassmen and other inexperienced players leading the way this year, the Rockets are off to their best start since 2015-16.
Anna earned its most impressive victory yet on Saturday with a 45-34 defeat of Russia at Clair C. Naveau Gymnasium.
Saturday’s win improved Anna to 4-0 overall and 2-0 in Shelby County Athletic League play, while the Raiders fell to 3-2 and 1-2, respectively.
The Rockets hovered around .500 last year until they won 12 straight to finish 19-7. They’re 4-0 for the first time in three seasons.
“Last year, we lost a lot of people, and we’ve had a lot of people stepping up for us,” Anna sophomore guard Ella Doseck said. “It feels good to finally redeem ourselves. …A lot of our players played a little bit of varsity. I think that helped, seeing the team just do so good at the end of last year. That just made us want to be better at the start and just finish the whole season good.”
Doseck has helped lead Anna’s hot start and came up with the biggest performance of her career on Saturday. She scored 30 points by hitting six 3-pointers and making some drives to the basket. She was just as much of a terror on defense by creating several turnovers through steals and tipped balls.
“She seemed to be feeling it, no doubt,” Anna coach Jeff Maurer said of Doseck. “She does a lot of things for us, not just scoring the ball. We’re on her all the time about playing disciplined defense and doing all those other things to be a leader, and she was fantastic at it today.
“… She’s taken a little bit more of a leadership role. Last year, there were six seniors out there, and she could defer a little bit to some of those girls. Now, she understands she has to take a little more on her shoulders, and she’s stepping up and doing a really good job.”
The Rockets led 18-4 through the first 16 minutes and later pushed the lead to 18 before Russia closed the final gap with three baskets in the last minute.
“The girls did a great job with helpside (defense), and I’m just really pleased with our defensive effort,” Maurer said. “Russia’s got some great players, like Laurissa Poling down there in the post. We knew she was going to be a handful, and we did a great job throughout the first half and really throughout the game of having somebody frontside and then someone back behind her helpside. She had to work for everything she was getting.”
Doseck scored 14 points in the first half to help Anna take the 16-point lead. She said she fed off the team’s stellar defensive performance.
“We’ve been practicing defense all week, and it just fueled our whole offense,” Doseck said. “It was a team thing, dribble-drive and kick out to me. It was good.”
Anna’s stout defense held Russia top scorers Jenna Cordonnier and Laurissa Poling in check. Poling finished with eight points, while Cordonnier scored six. Ashley Scott led Russia with nine points.
The Raiders had trouble getting the ball to Poling, a 6-foot-0 forward. Anna 6-2 center Lauren Barhorst led the defensive charge, but it was an entire team effort. When Russia tried to work the ball inside, one or two other Anna defenders would normally drop inside.
“She’s got the height to match Laurissa, but it was definitely their helpside that really hurt us,” Russia coach Andy Timmerman said. “We didn’t execute when they did helpside. We did a little bit in the second half and made an adjustment and got some open shots, but we were still just scrambling and trying to catch up. They definitely have some good guards that helped prevent us from doing that.”
Barhorst, who finished with nine points, missed last season due to a knee injury.
“She just continues to get better and better this year,” Maurer said. “This is a big game for her to show how good she is and how much she has progressed. I was real proud of the way she played, rebounding the basketball and playing solid defense.”
Doseck hit consecutive 3s to put Anna up 18-4 with 2:03 left in the second quarter. The Raiders scored the last five points of the second half to close the gap to nine before halftime, but Anna pulled away in the second half.
Jessica York made a basket to pull Russia within 27-20 with 2:24 left in the third, but Barhorst made a shot off the glass 40 seconds later and Doseck followed a little later with a 3 to boost the lead to 32-20.
After York made another basket to cut the gap to 10 late in the third quarter, Doseck opened the fourth with a driving bucket and free throw after a foul to give the Rockets a 35-22 lead. She later hit a 3 with 4:45 left to increase the lead to 39-24, then Barhorst followed with a pair of free throws with 3:59 left to push the advantage to 15 points.
“We just didn’t start off very well and didn’t communicate,” Timmerman said. “That led to them getting that early lead. We played pretty even throughout the rest of the game, but that (early deficit) was too much. They hit quite a bit of outside shots, so a tip of the hat to them for being able to do that.
“We just couldn’t match their intensity. They just had a little bit more intensity and a little bit more purpose throughout the game than we did.”
The Raiders weren’t anticipating a slow start after returning much of the roster from last year’s 20-6 campaign, but Timmerman said there’s plenty of time for the team to improve.
“We’re not playing our best basketball right now, but that’s why it’s a long season,” Timmerman said. “Hopefully we’ll improve and be playing better basketball in the middle of season and end of season at tournament time.”
The teams will meet again in SCAL play on Jan. 21 in Anna.
“This was a hard-fought win,” Maurer said. “Russia’s a great team. The score might not have indicated that, but we had to battle, and we knew it was going to be a battle. It’ll be a tough one the second time around.”
Russia will play again next Saturday at Botkins. Anna’s next game is Thursday at West Liberty-Salem.
Reach Bryant Billing at 937-538-4818, or follow @SidneyOHSports on Twitter and @BryantBillingSDN on Facebook.