Lady Rockets celebrate record-setting season despite youth

Coach Singer earns 100 wins, all claim sectional championship & program win record with 19


Karly Reger

The Varsity Rockets huddle up before their Jan. 21 game at Rootstown. They came away with a 51-36 win.

The Lady Rockets basketball team set a new school record of 19 wins in one season, ended Norton’s 117-game win streak, earned Head Coach Carl Singer his 100th win, and advanced to the third round of playoffs.

Players and coaches said highlights of the season include beating Norton and then getting revenge on Woodridge after losing by 18 at home earlier in the season.

Head Coach Carl Singer said the Lady Rockets knew Norton’s game plan going into that second matchup January 9. “We… just focused on what we needed to do to give ourselves an opportunity to win,” he said. “The girls were very focused and wanted to be the ones to end their streak.”

Head Coach Carl Singer prepares his team after a timeout. Grouped around him are freshmen Carlee Bedford and Olivia Johnson-Wilson and sophomore Sydney Abbhul. (Natalie Queen)

Singer earned his 100th career win as the girls’ Varsity head coach with their 42-21 victory over Harvey February 15.

“I feel very fortunate that I have had the opportunity to coach so many outstanding players, but even more so great people,” he said. “For me, it is a great feeling to know the program is going in the right direction.”

He went on to say, “When I started coaching here and looked at the program history, we only had about 150 wins since the program was in existence, so to see the program be where it is now and where I think it will continue to go makes me very proud of what we have done.”

Stats for the game against Harvey, provided by Maxpreps, include junior Ella Kassan leading the way with 12 points. Sophomore Sydney Abbhul and junior Madelyn Hajec both added nine points to help the Rockets. Sophomore Naomi Benson recorded 12 rebounds to go along with her six points.

When the Rockets defeated Norton 49-42 at home, they ended the Panthers’ 117-game win streak, which dated back to 2017. According to Maxpreps, Abbhul led the way with 13 points on 67% shooting. Benson recorded a double-double with 10 points and 18 rebounds. Kassan had 12 points and eight rebounds.

The Rockets’ lone senior, Reanne Barzal, described the feeling of ending that extensive streak as, “ truly amazing” and a “very big accomplishment.”

The Rockets’ lone senior, Reanne Barzal, celebrates Senior Night with her team Jan. 30. Barzal scored eight points in this 61-19 win over Springfield. (Maisey Gauntner)

Carlee Bedford, one of the Rockets’ two freshmen in their starting lineup, said, “We were so ready to play that day, and the energy was great throughout the entire gym, so it was definitely something I will never forget.”

Kassan, the only upperclassman in the starting lineup, said the feeling of beating Norton was “the best.” She has “been wanting to beat them for the longest time, and finally achieving this goal is just an overall great feeling,” she added.

Kassan felt pressured to lead such a young team this season, “I feel like I have definitely taken on a more leadership role. Since this is my third year on Varsity, I know the pace of the game and what is expected out of all of us.”

Barzal said she also felt the pressure of adapting to a new role on the team to accommodate the lack of seniority. “I had to step up my role as a team leader, making sure that they knew I had their backs at all times,” she said. “Normally there are more than just one senior on a team, which makes it a little easier to do those types of things. It put some pressure on me to make sure I was there for my team 100% all the time.”

The younger girls have definitely stepped up to the challenge and played their roles. When asked about the importance of the youth of his team, Singer said, “The sky’s the limit to what we are capable of in the future.”

The Rockets’ two starting freshmen, Carlee Bedford and Olivia Johnson-Wilson take a break from warmups before a home game. (Matthew Knuth)

Olivia Johnson-Wilson started along with Bedford. “They are definitely not your typical freshman,” Kassan said. “Those two have definitely stepped up and are a huge part of why we are doing so well this season.”

Benson, the Rockets’ breakout sophomore, agreed. “Carlee and Olivia both have made a huge impact on the team this season: Carlee, with her ability to hit threes from the perimeter, and Olivia, giving out good passes and driving to the hoop.”

Benson led the team in points, rebounds, and blocks per game, as well as field goal percentage, according to Maxpreps.

Benson and Kassan have found an incredible connection on the court. According to Kassan, they play well together because they play “off each other’s strengths” and are “always looking for one another on the offensive side. Once we get into a rhythm on offense, it is hard for teams to stop the two of us…”

Celebrating their 37-36 win at Woodridge Feb. 3 are freshmen Carlee Bedford and Olivia Johnson-Wilson, sophomore Naomi Benson and junior Ella Kassan. (Polly Dierkens)

Benson added, “We both know how each other plays, so that helps us know when to give each other the ball.”

The team’s relationship off the court and bonding rituals before games has also been an important part of their success this season.

One thing the team does before every game is “a team prayer…that’s led by Raegan [Hendon], then a little pep talk from Naomi [Benson], followed by a little meditation to make sure all our jitters are out,” Barzal said.

Barzal also talked about the importance of the team’s relationship off the court. “I feel like our team chemistry this year has really been what separates this team from previous teams,” she said. “We all have created a very strong bond over the span of the season and just keeps growing.”

The girls advanced to the third round of playoffs after beating Chagrin 41-29 in the sectional championship February 18.

Rockets celebrate beating Chagrin and winning the sectional championship Feb. 18. (Polly Dierkens)

This is the farthest the girl’s basketball team has ever gone in the post-season They faced a tough Perry team February 22 and fell short of moving on to the Northeast 2 District Championship game by a score of 45-43.

This tough loss did not negate everything the girls accomplished this season, at least in the eyes of their coach. “When I started eight years ago,” Singer said, “I was told we hadn’t won a playoff game in 10 years, and now, in the last eight years, we have won at least one playoff game six times.”