By Tom Nader
Publisher and Editor
A basketball gymnasium is usually a noisy place.
The echo of many bouncing basketball’s.
The squeak of basketball shoes changing directions.
The swell of a coach’s voice yelling instructions and motivations.
Amongst the audio chaos, Rootstown junior standout Nadia Lough finds bliss.
She finds peace.
And it has been like that since she first started playing as a fourth-grader.
“I just love being in a gym playing basketball,” Lough said. “The gym is where my mind is free of everything. I think there are times of the year that I am in a gym more than I am in my own house.”
Lough’s statistics and the Rovers’ results prove that commitment to be true.
She is averaging 13 points and 9.7 rebounds per game this season.
All while Rootstown, the Portage Trail Conference’s back-to-back league champions, have opened the year with an 11-1 record on a quest for the title three-peat.
There still remains no substitute for hard work and Lough has invested herself in her teammates and the program.
It is something that second-year head coach Joe Leonard noticed immediately.
“Any time I offer time to open the gym, during the season or during the off-season, Nadia is here,” Leonard said. “She loves basketball. She is a natural leader, she works extremely hard and she is incredibly coachable. She seeks feedback and if something falls short of her standards, she wants to know why so that she can fix it.”
A reason why the numbers 56-49 have rung so truly and so loudly for Lough and the entire Rovers’ girls basketball program.
If the team is lacking the focus or intensity inside of a drill or practice, it is not unusual for Leonard to call out, “This is for 56-49!”
The numbers are not random.
They are specific to Feb. 18, 2023.
They are the final score of the Rovers’ Division III sectional-final defeat to Mentor Lake Catholic that ended the tournament for last year’s team.
“It reminds us of what that loss felt like,” Lough said. “We have team goals that we are working for, together, and the first step is trying to defend our PTC championship, but we also expect better of ourselves during the postseason this year. We are a team that has strong bonds, so we believe in ourselves — that we can work hard enough to do something bigger this year.”
Rootstown’s chemistry dates back to middle school, with many of the team’s core players having history that dates back to their youth-basketball days, but the cohesion magnified during the summer, according to Lough.
“I feel like that is definitely where things started for us this year,” Lough said. “Everyone went to everything. Even if a player missed one event, they would be at all of the others. That is where we really learned how to play with each other.”
It was where they learned to trust in each other.
For Leonard, his trust in Lough elevates her into a role of having another coach on the floor.
“Nadia does things the right way and her basketball IQ is very high,” Leonard said. “Her teammates trust that she will be there and the underclassmen look up to her. That is what makes Nadia such a special player because it is so much more than just the incredible numbers she puts up. She is really like the heartbeat of our program.”
Lough has even dedicated herself to the youth program.
She has helped coach Rootstown’s youth girls basketball teams since her seventh-grade year and she is currently the head coach for the Rovers’ fifth- and sixth-grade teams.
“A few years ago, I was asked if I wanted to help out with the youth, and my immediate answer was yes. When I was a youth player, Kassidy Smith, who was a high-school player at that time, was our coach, and I remember how awesome that felt to have her with us. I knew that if I ever had the chance, I wanted to give back the same way, and I am so glad to do it. It feels so good to give back to the younger players and the program.”
It feels like bliss.