STREETSBORO _ From doormat to Portage County League contender.
That's the long trip Streetsboro girls basketball coach Jeff Rainer hoped to take his Rockets on when he took over the job at the start of the year.
The journey is far from complete, but in this first season under the new coach, the Rockets have shown signs that they are finally ready to turn their fortunes around.
The season is only a little more than half over, but Streetsboro has already won four times as many games as it had in the last five years combined, a time span in which the Rockets compiled a miserable 1-103 record. At this point in the season, the Rockets have already won four games.
"I'm sure when other coaches look at their schedule and see Streetsboro, they probably still think that it will be an easy win for them," said Rainer. "But we're changing that. We really want to be successful."
The first step in becoming successful was to win a game, something no Rockets team had done since late in the 1993-94 season when it beat Aurora.
At the time of that win, Renee Baus and Jamie Molusky, the only seniors on the team, were in middle school.
Baus and Molusky finally discovered what it's like to win a game when the Rockets captured a victory in Rainer's second game as coach, 40-34, at Our Lady of the Elms Dec. 1.
"The girls were pretty much in shock," said Rainer. "They just sat as if they were stunned on the bus ride home. But then we won another game over Christmas break (43-35 at Cuyahoga Heights), and then we won the big one."
The "big one" was a 50-47 home victory over Crestwood, Streetsboro's first PCL win since beating Mogadore midway through the 1991-92 season.
"That was amazing," said freshman center Michelle Poston. "When we won, I looked back and saw all the fans swarming the court. We went crazy in the locker room, spaying silly string everywhere."
In the past, Streetsboro players would think of any reason not to come to practice, but now they are finding out the ability is there to win some games and actually look forward to coming to the gym.
"I used to tell (the old coaches) anything to get out early," said junior guard Kristi Quesenberry. "I'd make up all kinds of excuses. 'I'm sick,' or 'Someone's picking me up early.' ... When we first started practicing, we came in with all kinds of attitudes against (Rainer). There was a big lack of respect. But that all changed. It's been a really different year. I think we're going to be a pretty good team."
Part of the reason Streetsboro's girls weren't excited about playing basketball until this year was the instability within the Rockets' program.
"I think it's been really hard for this team, especially the seniors," said Rainer. "For the older kids, I'm their third different coach... I can't trace back to exactly what the problem was with this team, because I know the coaches that came ahead of me were good, dedicated coaches. However, the seniors we have now, when they were freshmen, went 10-2. But only two of the girls from that team are still in the program ... we have to find a way to keep these girls in the program."
This isn't the first challenging job for Rainer.
Two years ago, the Youngstown native took over the reigns of a struggling Newton Falls team. When he left to take over at Streetsboro, the Tigers were contending in the Trumbull Athletic Conference-8.
"It wasn't as hard at Newton Falls as it was here," said Rainer. "Probably the biggest difference was that at Newton Falls, they hadn't lost for as long. They were just coming off a couple bad seasons. But, I think there is more ability here at Streetsboro. They are just more beaten down here. It is going to take a lot of work. We need a group of girls who are willing to commit to playing basketball. And I think we have some young kids who have that type of commitment."
Winning some games has helped encourage the players on the team to re-dedicate themselves to the sport.
"I used to hate coming to practice because it never seemed to help us," said junior Amy Rhinehart. "Now it doesn't seem pointless ... I'm glad now that I have another year left. I really feel sorry for the seniors who won't be here next year because I'm sure this team is going to win. We've already come a long way in just one year. Girls like Lisa (Stoughton) are really lucky because they'll be here when this team is really good."
Stoughton, the team's freshman point guard, is also excited about Streetsboro's future.
"This program is really going to go somewhere," she said. "I think we can be in first place, maybe not right away, but sometime. What we need is players to be more dedicated."
While the players dedication continues to grow, they can rest assured that, for the first time, their coach is dedicated to standing beside them.
"I have no plans of leaving," said Rainer, who teaches special education at the high school. "Streetsboro is a great place. At first it was really hard to leave Newton Falls, but the administration and the direction of the school (system) have made this a great place to teach and coach. There are some great people here ... my assistant coach, Harry Kraft, has really helped me out a lot in learning the PCL ... I've never been in such a great position. I'm very happy to be here."