February 13, 2003
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Members of the YSHS boys varsity basketball team, first row, from left: Jordan Skinner, Dylan Borchers, Brandon Frye, Rory Hotaling, Brent Robinson and Anthony Brandon; back row: Matt Wallace, Evan Davis, Andrew Richlen, Dustin Rudegeair, Aaron Cobb and Jacob Chima.

Bulldogs strive to ‘never let up’

When asked what makes this year’s YSHS boys basketball team different from Bulldog teams in the recent past, team leaders Andrew Richlen, Brent Robinson and Dustin Rudegeair say the same things: more focus, more desire, more intensity.

Early in the season, during a game against Troy Christian, coach Brad Newsome gave the team a special speech at halftime. He showed them a picture in Sports Illustrated of Shaquille O’Neal with an intense look on his face. The caption said, “Get out the way!”

“That was one thing the whole team really picked up on right away, until that halftime speech, we hadn’t played with much intensity,” said Rudegeair, a junior forward averaging 18 points and 10.8 rebounds a game.

But in the second half of that game, the Bulldogs gave birth to the team that has risen to third in the state and second in the Miami Valley in Division IV as well as the No. 1 seed in the Division IV sectional, which will be held at the University of Dayton.

“After the speech, ‘Get out the way’ became something like a motto for us,” Robinson said. “It reminded us that if we want to be as good as Shaq, we need to put out an incredible effort.”

But Robinson has another motto in mind if and when the team reaches its goals. “What we really want to be,” Robinson said, “is untouchable.”

While only Robinson will say it straight away, it seems that all three Bulldog stars have a trip to Columbus on their minds. “Every year our goal is to win a state championship. It has to be; that’s why you play,” said Robinson, a senior guard averaging 18.2 points and 5.6 assists a game.

This year, however, that goal seems a little more realistic than in the past.

“Sure, we could get to Columbus. If we play as well as we possibly can, there’s no telling how far we’ll go,” Richlen said. “We could go all the way, and we know it.”

The three top ’Dogs also know that other YSHS teams have failed to live up to high expectations. The Bulldogs lost in the second round of the playoffs to No. 1 seed Bethel last year, and lost in the first round to Cedarville in 2001 and 2000. All three leaders said that intensity and desire are what separates this year’s team from those that exited the playoffs early.

“We can’t really focus on the expectations other people have for us, we just have to continue to work hard to meet the expectations we have for ourselves,” Robinson said.

Rudegeair and Richlen agreed. “We have to take things more seriously than we did last year, and that starts with practice,” Rudegeair said.

“This year we realize that as the playoffs approach, we can never let up, not for a minute, in practice or in the games,” added Richlen, a senior center averaging 10 points and 10 rebounds a game.

All three also indicated that as team leaders, it will be their job to make sure they continue to motivate the team. Richlen said that all year he has tried to be vocal on the court and in the locker room. “When someone misses a layup or throws a bad pass, I try to speak up, to be a leader,” he said. “It’s not because I’m mad at somebody, it’s just that we all know come playoff time we can’t afford those mistakes.”

One thing the talented trio can take comfort in is their ability to pick each other up on the court. After playing organized basketball together for five or six years, and playground ball for even longer, each seems to know the others’ games as well as his own. This familiarity allows the players to motivate and challenge each other, and compensate when one of them has an off night.

“I think the Cedarville game is a good example of how we helped each other out,” Richlen said. “Brent struggled, but Dusty and I came through to pick up the slack.”

Robinson had similar thoughts about the game against Dayton Christian. “That was a big game for us because it was against a Division II school, and each of us struggled for a stretch in that game, but the other two always stepped up to fill in,” he said.

The Bulldogs head into the playoffs seeded first in their sectional, and a target on their backs. The Bulldogs also have to contend with one of the most storied cliches in sports: it is extremely difficult to beat a team three times in one year. But if the ’Dogs want to advance to the district finals, that is just what they will have to do. In fact, they may have to do it twice in a row.

YSHS opens the playoffs against Miami Valley on Tuesday, Feb 18. The ’Dogs have already defeated Miami Valley twice this season, 71–55 on Dec. 20 and 71–50 on Jan. 28. If the Bulldogs beat the Metro Buckeye Conference foe for a third time this year, they will likely face Xenia Christian, another MBC rival, for the third time. In December, YSHS downed Xenia Christian, 81–72, in Xenia. Later in the season, on Jan. 24, the Bulldogs completed the regular season sweep of winning 92–82 at home.

“In the playoffs you can’t look past anybody, but you have to be especially careful with teams you have beaten before,” Robinson said. “They’re always hungry for revenge.”

“We know we can’t take any team lightly, but Coach has been reminding us how important it is to take it one game at a time,” Richlen said.

If the Bulldogs advance to the third round of the sectional, there is a good chance they could match up against yet another team they have defeated this year, cross-county rival Cedarville.

“It would be nice to see Cedarville in the tournament again,” Rudegeair said, “but that’s too far away to worry about. We have to win two playoff games against tough opponents before that would even be possible.”

—Brian Loudon