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December 5, 2012

After just missing out on league title, Ravens begin winter with new focus

By Mike Moore
C & G Sports Writer

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Royal Oak coach Brian Sopata and his team won 18 games a year ago, but finished one-game back in the division standings.

ROYAL OAK — Winning 18 games in the regular season added up to a first-round playoff exit and a second-place finish in the final league standings.

It seems nearly impossible to be true in a 21-game schedule.

Nearly.

“It was a great season, I mean, a great season,” Royal Oak High girls basketball coach Brian Sopata said with a laugh last week. “But to win that much and come up short in league play, and then have the season end in the first playoff game was tough. It really was.”

The 2011-12 Ravens were 18-3, but a buzzer-beating defeat to Bloomfield Hills Andover left them at 14-2 in the Oakland Activities Association Blue Division, one game behind the Barons in the final standings.

Then in the playoffs, facing the same Southfield High team they had beaten 30-27 in the regular-season finale, the Ravens were on the wrong side of a 39-33 final.

“We accomplished so much, we really did,” senior guard Sami Stormont said from a Nov. 29 practice. “But it’s still disappointing. We lost on a last-second shot to lose the division, then didn’t play our best in the playoffs.”

But as Sopata and his girls talked about it, it was clear that last year’s ending was really the beginning of a new inspiration, a drive to complete what was left so very incomplete.

“My feeling is, you have to keep things in perspective,” Sopata explained. “If we play the same way we did last year, I don’t think we’ll have any regrets by the time this season’s over. I mean, sometimes the ball bounces against you and you don’t get that break, but we have a chance to play meaningful basketball games again and see what happens.”

And with much of the same roster.

The Ravens returned eight girls from last year’s team, including three starters and Stormont, an All-State recipient who averaged 22.3 points and 9.2 rebounds per game.

“To bring someone like that back, and three starters and two other girls that had starting experience, it’s a huge advantage,” Sopata said. “All that experience, mixed in with some of the youth we have, is a pretty good thing to have.”

As they spoke, it was clear there’s little fear in taking motivation from the disappointment of how last season ended .

“I think it brought us together, almost immediately,” senior Gabby Morton said. “It was almost like, as soon as the year ended, we were closer than ever before.”

The goal for this year is entirely based on what was missed last season.

“The first, the main, goal is to win the league. That’s where we’ll start,” Sopata said. “The district, with (Lathrup Village Southfield-Lathrup) is going to be very tough. So we’ll deal with that when we get there. But we know, based on last year, we’re not going to sneak up on anyone. So we’re going to keep working hard in practice so any adversity we see in games is something we’ve dealt with before.”

“We’re looking forward to the challenge,” he continued. “When you have the roster we do, with the chemistry and the experience, it’s special. It’s teams like this that make coaching so enjoyable.”

The Ravens were 1-0 on the young season, having gone on the road to beat Walled Lake Western 59-47.

“This program has come such a long way from where it was a few years ago, winning just two games in a season,” Stormont said. “We’ve accomplished a lot already. But we know there’s more out there.”

You can reach C & G Sports Writer Mike Moore at mmoore@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1038. Twitter Follow Mike on Twitter.