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Romeo's Lauren Bright fights for the ball. (Photo by David Dalton)

Basketball - Girls

GIRLS BASKETBALL: Romeo strong in league opener (With Video)

Chippewa Valley's Tiffany Misch (Photo by David Dalton)

Romeo's Lauren Bright. (Photo by David Dalton)

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Expectations are usually high after a basketball team wins a league championship.

When a team exceeds those expectations, it can even catch the coach by surprise.

“I can’t say enough about this team right now,” said Romeo coach Connie Hernden after the defending Macomb Area Conference Red Division champion Bulldogs opened the league season Friday with a 60-44 victory against a Chippewa Valley team that is also expected to contend for the division crown.

“They’re surprising me every step of the way. They have a lot of heart, a lot of desire -- and it’s a team. Everyone is contributing to our success right now and that’s what makes it fun. If it isn’t one person, it’s another one stepping up.”

The balance that has helped Romeo get off to a 6-0 start showed on the score sheet. All five Bulldogs starters scored at least six points. Alex Szajna led the way with 13, Sarah Kort had 11 and Lindsey Hernden finished with 10. Lauren Bright had eight points and eight rebounds and the 6-foot-5 junior center continued her improvement in kicking the ball out from the post area.

Balance was the big difference between Romeo and Chippewa Valley. The Big Reds got 21 points from Tiffany Misch, but no one else had more than eight.

“We got big numbers from Tiffany tonight, but after that we kind of fell off the wagon,” said Chippewa Valley coach Jackie Maurer. “The other kids have to step up. Those that usually score eight or 10 points didn’t have those numbers tonight and that hurt us.

“We had that balance the first few games. We have to work on better efficiency on offense, being more effective in our half-court sets. The (league) season is just starting. Hopefully, we’ll bounce back next week.”

Connie Hernden mentioned nearly the whole team when singling out players for strong performances.

“Sarah Kort had a phenomenal game. Defensively, she did a great job on Tiffany, who still had a great game because she’s an outstanding player. She’ll make tough shots and she did, but Sarah jumped some passes and got some steals and layups.

“Alex saw the floor extremely well, made passes when she had to and shot the ball when she had to. Lauren rebounded. Christie (Sinicki) rebounded. Lindsey woke up in the second half and hit some shots. Our bench was outstanding. We don’t lose a lot when we put our bench kids in. It was just an overall great team win to start the league.”

Bailey Engstrom and Shelby Laseke both made important contributions off the bench. Engstrom had five offensive rebounds on one possession and was rewarded for her effort when Szajna fed her a pass for a layup that gave Romeo a 12-4 lead after the first quarter. Laseke hit two straight baskets, one a 3-pointer, during a 10-4 run in the third quarter after the Big Reds had cut the lead to four points on a 3-point basket by Olivia DeMoss.

“These girls know their roles and when they get in they take advantage of the minutes that they get,” Hernden said. “Right now, we’re rolling on all cylinders. I just hope it continues.”

Romeo was certainly warmed up and ready to go when the game started. The Bulldogs jumped out to a 10-0 lead and three of the baskets came off turnovers.

“Our press worked well,” Hernden said. “It started to falter when Chippewa figured out where it wanted to get the ball. I think we surprised them and got some turnovers.”

Misch sparked an 11-4 spurt by Chippewa Valley that cut the Bulldogs’ lead to 16-15 midway through the second quarter. Hernden called a timeout and whatever she said got the players’ attention. Romeo finished the first half on an 8-2 run to lead 24-17 at the break.

“They were leaking Misch off of the rebounds and we weren’t doing what we were supposed to be doing, what we had talked about in practice,” Hernden said. “We talked about settling down and withstanding their run. We knew they were going to make a run. We had to withstand it, continue to play good defense and take good shots.”

Maurer was disappointed that the Big Reds couldn’t get over the hump after closing to within one point in the first half and four points in the third quarter.

“We just couldn’t keep our consistency,” she said. “We got down early and fought our way back. It was the same way in the third quarter. We always had to fight our way back but we couldn’t keep the momentum.”

Ciara Helton pulled down a game-high 10 rebounds for Chippewa Valley.

Chippewa Valley 4 13 20 7 -- 44

Romeo 12 12 19 17 -- 60

CHIPPEWA VALLEY (4-2, 0-1): Olivia DeMoss 7, Katie Deng 5, Tiffany Misch 21, Ciara Helton 3, Emily Tolksdorf 8. Totals: 15 (3) 11-15--44.

ROMEO(6-0, 1-0): Sarah Kort 11, Lindsey Hernden 10, Lauren Bright 8, Alex Szajna 13, Christie Sinicki 6, Andrea Madden 3, Bailey Engstrom 5, Shelby Laseke 5. Totals: 24 (3) 9-16--60.

Last Updated: 1/6/2012 11:22:26 PM EST