Bender first of trio to reach 1,000
WARREN — The Warren G. Harding girls basketball team posted its best season in program history last winter, finishing 22-3 and finishing as runner-up in the Division I district tournament.
It’s the kind of success eighth-year coach Frank Caputo envisioned a few years ago when the talented members of the 2021 class walked through the doors as freshmen.
Caputo had high hopes for this group even before it arrived.
“My assistant coach Bernard Bolha coached them in seventh grade, and he knew they were special back then, and they’ve continued to share the ball and enjoy in one another’s successes along the way,” he said. “They’re unselfish and will do what it takes to have success as a team.
“When they were freshmen and became starters, I remembered thinking South Range just had a few 1,000-point scorers on the same team and maybe we could have two or maybe three 1,000-point scorers on the same team — in the same class. I’ve never heard of anything like that.”
Kamarah Bender, a 5-foot-7 guard, surpassed 1,000 career points in the first quarter of the regular-season finale during a 61-37 win over Champion on Feb. 12.
“It was pretty special, and it was a nice accomplishment,” said Bender, who has 1,064 points entering her final season. “Having my parents there to celebrate and get our picture made it even more special.”
“We tried to make it a very memorable moment for her,” Caputo said. “(Champion coach Michael Cole) told me before the game to do whatever was needed, so we didn’t even have to use a timeout. We had a banner that was made already and got the picture taken.
“We have the game-ball signed and ready to go, and it was supposed to be awarded to her during the next school board meeting, along with the entire team being recognized for being the first to win 20-plus games in a season. But that’s been put on hold, like everything else now.”
The Raiders’ season ended with a 44-32 loss to Stow-Munroe Falls in a Division I district final.
Bender’s teammates and classmates Faith Burch and Diamond Phillips will have their opportunities to reach 1,000 career points next season.
Burch has 750 points and Phillips has 647.
“Faith only needs to average around 11 points per game, but it will take Diamond a little more work because she’ll need to average around 14 points per game,” Caputo said.
Burch, a 6-1 wing, averaged 15.2 points and 12.4 rebounds this season, while Phillips, a 5-6 point guard, averaged 10.1 points and 5.9 assists.
“It’s a great core to have coming back, and the best thing is they continue to grow and continue to be team-first,” Caputo said. “Kamarah has always had the ability to finish in traffic, but she took her passing game to a new level this year, and her defense has improved every season.
“Faith nearly has as many career rebounds as she does points and could finish with 1,000 points and 1,000 rebounds. That’s remarkable. Diamond has always been an unselfish distributor, but now she’s really getting the ball on spot and on time to others, putting the ball in their hands where they can score directly and immediately.”
With one season left for this trio, Bender says the expectations will be greater next season.
“We believe in each other, so we will have a lot of goals next year,” Bender said. “It would be great if they get 1,000 points next year, and we get to play in the regional final at least. That would be the best way to go out, to get all of those things done and just improve on this season.”