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Going in different directions

[Times photos: Jill Sagers]
Playing for the inexperienced Boca Ciega has been frustrating for Kelcey Roegiers-Jensen. She writes "AM RIP" on her left arm before each game in memory of Ashley Morrison, an AAU teammate from Ridgewood who died Dec. 12 of encephalitis.

By PETE YOUNG

© St. Petersburg Times, published January 31, 2001


The mirror always has been kind to Kelcey Roegiers-Jensen.

What wouldn't she like about what she has seen? Staring back at the teenage basketball junkie has been a consummate point guard, team leader and winner. The 5-foot-7 Boca Ciega sophomore has embodied those traits, chiseling her image in stone by directing her AAU team to five straight state titles and her high school team to a 23-8 record as a freshman.

Point guard, team leader, winner: They are what others have told her she is and what she always has strived to be. They are what she always has seen in the reflection ... until now.

This winter, the mirror has cracked.

Point guard? She has taken the most shots, by far, of anyone on her team.

Leader? She does not communicate well with most of her teammates.

Winner? Boca Ciega is 13-10 but is not competitive against the top teams in the area.

Her identity, forged through years of sweat and toil, has been fractured. And it is ripping her apart.

"It's hard this year, very hard," Roegiers-Jensen said. "God doesn't give you anything you can't deal with. My boyfriend (Donnie McClendon, a senior at Boca Ciega) told me that. And I know he's right, but sometimes you just don't look at it like that, like when you have the best game of your life and you still lose by 40."

This is adversity she had never expected to confront. After all, Boca Ciega always has been a state power. The Pirates won the state title in 1995 and '96. This season, however, they have two players with varsity experience.

"We (stink); you saw that. There's no dedication," said Roegiers-Jensen, who turned 16 Thursday. "I don't mean to talk bad about the team, but it's all fun and games to them. There's no heart. "It's very disappointing to me. I mean, I'm in love with basketball."

Kelcey Roegiers-Jensen fixes her socks and shoes without teammates around during halftime as assistant coach Alton Hooker looks on.

* * *

Clearwater girls basketball coach Tom Shaneyfelt is guiding the Tornadoes through offensive drills. It is the day before a huge game at Lakewood.

Led by 6-foot-1 sophomore standout Dominique Redding, the reigning Pinellas County Player of the Year, Clearwater once again is among the best in the area a season after being a Class 5A final four team.

Shaneyfelt barks out an offense, and the team immediately executes it. He makes another call, and the team adjusts again, each girl doing what she should. It happens over and over.

"I think we work harder than last year's team," said Redding, the best friend and a Clearwater Green Wave AAU teammate of Roegiers-Jensen. "We had to work hard to fill in some spots from last year."

The Tornadoes are immersed in a battle with Lakewood and Largo for county public-school supremacy. All are ranked in the state Top 10 in Class 4A. Guards Natalie Wilkinson and Kasie Muchler fill supporting roles around Redding.

"Kasie, Natalie, Karley (Counts), Meredith (Jordan), everybody -- they've all worked hard and stepped up," said Redding, who is averaging 20.7 points and 9.8 rebounds a game. "The team has really jelled."

In other words, Redding and Clearwater are the diametrical opposites of Roegiers-Jensen and Boca Ciega.

"She's got the red carpet up there, and I always remind her of that," Roegiers-Jensen said.

This winter has been business as usual for Redding. For Roegiers-Jensen, it has been boiling, bewildering frustration while dealing with less-talented, less-devoted and less-experienced teammates.

"More than the losing part, I think she's upset with the effort some of the girls are putting forth," Boca Ciega coach Nathaniel Southern said. "It's not all basketball (for some girls on the team). It's, "I can do other things. I don't have to play basketball.'

"Kelcey's all basketball. It's all business. Right now we don't have all the girls with that mind-set."

At times, the situation has been too much for Roegiers-Jensen to cope with.

"I love to teach, I'd love to be a coach and I try to help these girls," said Roegiers-Jensen, who is enrolled in the medical program at Boca Ciega. "They don't get focused for a game in the locker room. They goof around, and that's what really irritates me."

Said Redding: "I just keep telling her, "Keep your head up, keep your head up. It'll get better next year.' "

Dominique Redding finds a captive audience as she cheers for her teammates.

* * *

Perhaps no moment crystallizes the sudden downturn of Bogie basketball -- and red-lined Roegiers-Jensen's frustration needle -- like the Jan. 5 Boca Ciega-Clearwater game.

Last season these state powers dueled five times, with Boca Ciega winning three. The teams are in different classifications this season, so this is the only meeting.

To Roegiers-Jensen, who is averaging 22.7 points and 5.8 assists, this is The Game, the biggest event of the season. She braids her hair especially for the occasion.

Boca Ciega is 7-6, however, against what Roegiers-Jensen said is an easier schedule than last season. Longtime coach Harry Elifson left after last season to become an assistant with the South Florida women's team. Southern inherited two experienced players, Roegiers-Jensen and senior forward Lauren Karfonta, who is in her third year on varsity.

Passing is Roegiers-Jensen's forte, but not this season. She buries a barrage of three-pointers late in the first quarter -- three in 1 minute, 23 seconds -- and does some showboating after each, playing to the home crowd.

"Got to -- got to get the fans into it," Roegiers-Jensen said.

Chuck Jensen, Kelcey's father and AAU coach, is perched in his customary spot at the top of the bleachers, videotaping the action.

Into the second quarter, the game is close. Jensen is asked if this season has been difficult because his daughter's team is "struggling somewhat." He gives a look that suggests the situation has not been fully grasped.

"Struggling? It's a lot worse than struggling," Jensen said. "It's been really, really hard for Kelcey."

Most of the Boca Ciega girls are playing for fun, not to compete for championships and/or prepare themselves to play in college. The chasm between Roegiers-Jensen and her teammates -- with the exception of Karfonta -- has not been bridged.

"A lot of the girls haven't played AAU ball," Southern said. "The only thing they've played is either JV ball here or middle school ball, and yeah, they are intimidated by (Roegiers-Jensen). She's just a go-getter, full speed. Everything she does is all out. And the girls are just getting used to it. Yes, at first they were intimidated.

"Kelcey seems to be handling it better than I thought she would. It's been frustrating for her, but we're building toward future years. We'll have three years together with this group."

This is Karfonta's last chance, however.

"This season has been the biggest letdown," Karfonta said. "Even just today (Jan. 16), we were at practice, and I was telling Kelcey how I almost quit. ... We're in it for each other right now."

The second half is all Clearwater. The duel between Redding and Roegiers-Jensen is over: The Tornadoes are pouring it on, pushing the lead to 20.

Karfonta is openly frustrated. Roegiers-Jensen cracks -- physically, mentally and emotionally. She is a zombie in the fourth quarter, exhausted and frequently hunched, tugging at her shorts while the action swirls around her. During timeouts she lays on her back near the bench while Southern addresses the team.

"I guess frustration set in," Roegiers-Jensen said "It's both mental and physical. That was the third game in (three days). It was so hard for me. That's when the frustration set in. That's when I started to talk and say, "Oh, I don't want to play anymore. Basketball's not fun.' That might have been my body talking (during the fourth quarter).

"These girls have a lot of potential, and I've told them that. ... If we would just work on fundamentals -- we can't even do left-handed layups. But we just go over the same plays (in practice) because we just don't seem to get it."

* * *

It's a Friday night in mid-January, and Redding is having her usual good game, but this one is at Lakewood, and the Spartans and Tornadoes are an even match. All-Pinellas guard Qunisha Rush has been giving Clearwater fits, but the Tornadoes, in front of a vocal, pro-Lakewood crowd, rally. Muchler banks in a three-pointer to send the game to overtime.

Not only is basketball going well for Redding, she has pulled her grade-point average up to 3.3 and made A's in biology and English. The toughest thing for her this season has been enduring a three-week stretch when her mother, Mary Adams, left to visit Redding's older sister in North Carolina.

It's not like she was alone. The youngest of Adams' five children, Redding has two sisters, a brother and a grandmother regularly supporting her from the stands.

But she missed Mom.

"It was sort of hard for me to play without my mom there. It's my mom -- she's always there," Redding said. "She said, "Promise me you'll rebound while I'm gone.' "

Redding, who turns 16 Feb. 10, also has had to endure lectures from Shaneyfelt on playing hard consistently. She said she needed the kicks in the behind, and they had the desired effect.

With Mom watching at Lakewood, Redding swishes a three-pointer from the top of the key to put Clearwater up by one with 10 seconds left in overtime. Lakewood counters with two free throws to re-take the lead with four seconds remaining.

Shaneyfelt calls timeout and diagrams a play for Redding. Wilkinson lofts an inbounds pass beyond halfcourt, where Redding catches it in stride. She takes a couple of dribbles to the free-throw line, pulls up for a 14-footer ... and misses. The shot hits the back of the rim and bounces away as the buzzer sounds.

Lakewood fans storm the court; Redding collapses.

Roegiers-Jensen has been watching from the stands, rooting for Redding. She can relate to the sting of a missed shot that could have won the game: She is immersed in a season that aches like a rotten tooth.

The end is near, however. The district playoffs begin next week.

"It was to the point (in early January) where I didn't even want to play," Roegiers-Jensen said. "Me and my dad had a long talk about it, and I don't want to quit. That's not what I'm about. I want to prove to everybody that I can stick with this team and go through the rough times, even though that's going to be throughout the season. I want to prove that I'm not a quitter and that I will stick it out."

Redding, whose team faces Lakewood in the conference championship game Friday, offers her a sympathetic ear and encouragement -- and wisdom that belies her youth.

"It's testing Kelcey, to see if she can deal with it -- not get an attitude and give up but fight through it," Redding said. "It might happen in AAU. We might be playing for a national championship and all having a bad game, and she'll have to carry us.

"It'll be good for her. She might not think so now, but it will be. She'll get through it."

One of the few times things haven't gone right this season: Clearwater's Dominique Redding missing a potential game-winning shot against Lakewood.

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