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Ridgewood is slowly climbing up ladder

The Rams already have posted more victories this season, three, than in the previous three.

By STEVE LEE

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 29, 2000


NEW PORT RICHEY -- Ridgewood's girls players, most of whom are newcomers, are learning how to play the game.

They already know how to win.

The team features five players from Ridgewood's girls basketball squad that won a school-record 26 games, conference and district championships and reached the regional semifinals.

"My team is much more athletic this year," second-year coach Joe Kelly said, alluding to basketball players Bridget Leigh, Joeyn Dearsman, Rachel Rauber, Debbie Romer and Catie Mansfield. "But along with the athleticism, it's a desire to win. That's one of the reasons I went out and got so many basketball players; their desire to win."

Although no district or conference titles are in the cards for the Rams, a turnaround season already is in place. Nothing drastic like going unbeaten from a team that did not win a game last season, but a turnaround nonetheless.

Ridgewood, which won just twice from 1997-99, surpassed that victory total with a 4-3 win over Springstead on March 24. That resulted in a 3-10 record, nothing to brag about but indicative of the program's progress under Kelly.

"Each year's progress," Kelly said. "Next year, I want to do better than this year. The year after that, I want to make a serious run at the conference title.

Ridgewood's top two singles players, sophomore Arysteju Szymanski and senior Emily Bahs, have not won a match after Tuesday's 7-0 loss to unbeaten River Ridge (12-0) on Tuesday. But the three other singles players, all sophomores, each have their share of individual wins.

No. 3 Rauber is 4-7, No. 4 Romer 5-8 and No. 5 Mansfield has her team's only winning record at 6-5.

The No. 1 doubles team of Szymanski and Bahs, as well as the No. 2 doubles tandem of Rauber and Leigh, each had won twice with the latter combination chalking up both victories last week.

But the most impressive performance last week came when Romer fell 6-1, 3-6 in a 7-0 loss to Pasco. Kelly lauded Romer for not throwing in the towel in what the coach called "a 2 1/2-hour, three-set marathon."

Kelly was even more impressed with Romer's attitude in defeat.

"I said, "Debbie, you played tough. I couldn't be more proud of you,' " Kelly recalled. "All she said to me was, "Coach, I let down the team.' "

Kelly said Romer, the only player on the team who has taken tennis lessons this season, is not the only one with a mindset to win every time she steps on the court.

"Everyone's fighting," Kelly said. "That's one thing I can count on my team doing this year. We're really playing better. In a lot of these matches, we're coming close and everyone's scoring points."

And, Kelly said, having fun. Kelly said he has organized games such as "Queen of the Court," and "Hit the Coach" -- "I stand on one end of the court and they try to hit me," Kelly said. "But I told them, "I'm allowed to hit (tennis balls) back." -- to keep things light.

"They just want to come out and have fun," Kelly said.

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