Express women riding local track to national prominenceWritten by Scott Calhoun | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Owens Community College women’s basketball coach Michael Llanas has a distinct feature in his office. On his wall hangs framed individual pictures of the 13 ladies who comprise his 2009-10 roster — but only those players. Why?
“We’re trying to build a family within this program,” Llanas said. “What we want is for our kids to feel close to our basketball team.”
But Llanas and his locally rooted coaching staff would like to see the long term core of the hearth literally build from within.
“We really want to establish a tradition of bringing in talent from Northwest Ohio to be a part of the entire Owens experience,” Llanas said.
The Express are currently 25-3 and ranked no.2 nationally among 137 NJCAA DII women’s teams. The school and surrounding community are starting to take notice.
“Last year we didn’t have a lot of people come watch us,” said 2008 Genoa grad and sophomore center Brittany Darling, “but this year we have a lot more fans.”
Not that area basketball aficionados are unaware of Darling, or other former local prep standouts who now play for the team. Jasmine Blanton (Notre Dame Academy) Demi Moschetti (Perrysburg), Ashley Hooker (Whitmer) and Jordan Floyd (Anthony Wayne) also ride this train.
Between the five, they each own all-league and all-district honors having once played out of the City League, Northern Lakes League or Suburban Lakes League. Darling, Blanton and Moschetti have all-Ohio considerations in their collective background. Blanton even earned a McDonald’s All-American nomination as a Lady Eagles senior in 2009.
“If we’re going to attract the best players in Northwest Ohio and Southeast Michigan, we’ve got to work hard and build a base,” said Llanas. “Hopefully, this is the base that’s going to achieve that goal.”
Llanas has reason to believe.
Blanton is the primary offensive force in the team’s backcourt, leading in scoring at 16.2 points with 3.4 assists, 2.4 steals and 4.8 rebounds per tipoff. The 6-foot-5 Darling hums along double-double style in the post with 13.4 points and 10.7 boards, including a 4.6 average on the offensive glass.
Moschetti is fourth in rebounds and scoring. Hooker has kicked in 112 points shooting more than 50 percent and grabbed 92 rebounds.
“It feels good. I like doing something good in Toledo,” Blanton said.
“What Jasmine wants is for her family to be able to see her play,” Llanas said. “We think it’s very touching that these kids want to stay close to home.
“In today’s society you’re hearing about the turmoil of the family unit. For these kids to want to stay close to home is a breath of fresh air.”
These homebodies, however, are making national waves and seeking something that can’t be obtained sitting at home by the fire. Securing the program’s first NJCAA DII crown could further attract future local prospects to stay right where the heart beats.
“I feel like we can do it,” Blanton said. “If everybody steps up and does their part, I believe we can be national champions. Now that we have a lot of attention we have to stay focused.”
The Express are coming off a 76-74 upset loss to Ohio Community College Athletic Conference (OCCAC) foe Sinclair CC (Dayton). The setback derailed an unbeaten conference title bid and an 18-game win streak spanning nearly three months.
Owens seeks to rebound Feb. 25 at Cincinnati State in a battle of 11-1 conference foes with the winner reigning as OCCAC champions.
After that? The Region 12 tournament with a berth to the NJCAA national tournament on the line.
As host, the Express hope to make it a family affair celebration right here at home in the OCC Student Health and Activities Center Performance Gym on March 5-7.