Sixth part in an ongoing series.
Dominique Redding and Kelcey Roegiers-Jensen are immensely talented and dedicated basketball players who have led parallel and intertwined lives.
Basketball is how they met seven years ago, and basketball is the tether between them. They practice together and hang out together whenever possible.
Both are considered among the elite high school juniors in Florida. Redding plays for Clearwater and Roegiers-Jensen for Boca Ciega, but they have teamed up with the Clearwater Green Wave AAU team each summer and won six straight state titles.
In August 2000, the Times introduced readers to them in the first installment of a periodic series. In Part V in early February, Roegiers-Jensen discovered a new outlet for her basketball passion, coaching a youth team.
In Part VI, Redding and her Clearwater teammates experience the exhilarating high and numbing despair from reaching the cusp of their ultimate goal but having it snatched away.
No, no, no. She wasn't going to cry.
Not in the waning moments of the state championship game against South Broward, when she and her Clearwater High teammates were slammed with the reality they had come this close to their dream.
Not during the awards ceremony, as the faces of her teammates _ such as senior Kasie Muchler and freshman Rachel Hammond _ transformed into splotchy, tear-drenched puddles.
Not when they placed a Class 5A runner-up medal _ instead of the championship reward she coveted _ around her neck. (A few seconds later, she gently removed it.)
Not during the news conference, when she was asked to express her thoughts and feelings moments after the most painful experience of her career, a 25-point defeat.
No, Dominique Redding would not cry _ at least not until she saw her mom, Mary Adams, waiting outside the Lakeland Center. They embraced, and Redding's eyes became dueling waterfalls.
"I was holding it in. Don't let the other team see me cry, no, no, no," Redding said. "I'm always fine until my mom starts hugging me. Then I'm like, awwww I guess I'm Mommy's little girl."
"I felt her pain," Adams said. "All I wanted to do was comfort her and tell her it will be all right. She's still my No. 1 player and a winner."
Redding's father never has been a part of her life, and the youngest of her four siblings is 25, so she and Mom have always been tight.
That bond has grown the past two years. Adams battled a serious illness she prefers not to discuss, other than to say she is recuperating. It was serious enough to keep her away from her job in the psychiatric department at Morton Plant Hospital.
The illness forced Redding, a junior who turned 17 on Feb. 10, to grow up more quickly. Off the court, she made mostly A's on her most recent report card, and her cumulative GPA has risen above 3.3. On the court, she assumed the leadership role on a young Clearwater team that dominated local competition.
Redding's maturity, added to her dedication and ability, has made her one of the top players in Florida. She averaged 21.9 points and 8.4 rebounds this season and was named Pinellas County Player of the Year for a second time.
The Tornadoes, No. 2 in the state poll most of the season and brimming with talented freshmen following Redding's lead, lost once in the regular season, 57-53 to Bradenton Southeast. Clearwater steamed through the district playoffs.
The Tornadoes' expected march to the state tournament was going splendidly _ until Redding's burgeoning maturity made a U-turn on Feb. 14.
In the opening game of the region playoffs against Boca Ciega _ just three wins away from the state final four and five away from the ultimate dream _ Redding pouted and moped, scored two points and was benched by coach Tom Shaneyfelt.
She had lived down to a nickname applied by assistant coach Kathy Shaneyfelt: BOB _ Big Old Baby.
"Before each game, we always pray as a team, then I pray by myself. Well, I forgot to do that, so that messed me up," Redding explained. "I was missing all my shots in warmups, then I missed like my first five shots, a couple right near the basket. I got down on myself and frustrated.
"It wasn't anybody's fault but mine," she said.
Clearwater won easily 68-47, but Redding's episode was unsettling _ especially to her mom. It was a tough game for Adams, with Redding's best friend and Adams' surrogate daughter, Kelcey Roegiers-Jensen, playing for the opposing team.
"I hate for her and Kelcey to have to play each other, because I love them both. It hurts bad when either of them loses," Adams said. "Points don't really matter as long as Dom plays her best, but to go out there and seem like you're on another planet?
"I didn't say anything to her that night and probably for the next couple of days. I don't know what happened, she never told me. But she knew what she had done."
"I got the whole "Mom thing,' " Redding said. " "You know better than that, I taught you better than that.' She almost grounded me."
Mom usually plays the good-cop role to brother Leman Adams' bad cop. Leman, 30, who played for Largo in the late 1980s, often is in Redding's ear, chiding her mistakes and imploring her to improve.
"He's nonstop. He's always saying, "Do this better, do that better,' " Redding said. "But after that, he didn't talk to me for a week."
Mary Adams says she tries not to add to the pressure on her daughter. Redding has been hounded by basketball camps and colleges since the sixth grade, and Adams' job at the hospital helped her appreciate the downside of being a talented athlete.
"I worked in the psychiatric department, and they would come in for help (in coping with stress). It was all sorts of athletes, including high school," said Adams, who played softball and volleyball growing up in Clearwater. "It was shocking to see how stressful it can be.
"Our family, we love sports. But the pressure Dom has, I never was faced with that. I was glad to get the free soda and have fun. For her now, it's adidas, Nike, colleges. It can seem like a lot of pressure.
"I've always told Dom, when playing wasn't fun, when it becomes like a job and the pressure's weighing her down, she can stop and I'll support her," Adams said.
Because of her pout against Boca Ciega, Redding did not start the region semifinal against Punta Gorda Charlotte.
"I felt like I let my teammates down," she said. "I don't want that taste ever again."
Powered by Muchler, sophomore Karley Counts and the freshmen _ Hammond, Karen Braden, Nicole Ryan, Danielle Kostacky and Heather Barber _ the Tornadoes bolted to an early lead. Redding came off the bench to get 15 points, 10 rebounds and 5 blocks in a 71-46 win.
Redding was back in good graces for the region championship, and a packed Clearwater gym saw her score 27 points as the Tornadoes dispatched Fort Myers 65-48 to advance to the final four for the second time in her three seasons.
Battle-tested Winter Springs was the state semifinal opponent. The Bears, Class 6A champions in 2000 and runners-up in 2001, had dropped a class this season.
They couldn't keep up with Clearwater, though. The Tornadoes dialed it up a notch at the start of the fourth quarter to break open a close game and win 63-53. Redding led the team with 17 points.
The dream final pitted Clearwater against top-ranked South Broward, winner of three state titles in four years.
Two seasons ago, when Redding was a freshman, the schools met in a semifinal. Shaneyfelt stalled to try to hang with the superior Bulldogs, and the Tornadoes nearly pulled off an upset, succumbing 37-35.
This time, Clearwater entered the game with a 33-1 record and 32 of its wins by 10 or more points. There would be no stalling.
Roegiers-Jensen watched from the stands at the Lakeland Center. She was pulling for Redding, as she had during Clearwater's previous four games, ever since the Tornadoes had eliminated Boca Ciega. During warmups, Roegiers-Jensen forecast South Broward would be too athletic and savvy for the precocious Tornadoes.
"South Broward, they like to talk and get in people's heads," Roegiers-Jensen said. "They've got the experience and some really good players, and they know how to win big games."
She was right.
The Bulldogs' aggressive defense ruffled Clearwater into 16-of-60 shooting (26.6 percent) from the field. They withstood a Tornadoes rally that trimmed the margin to 37-31 early in the third quarter before surging to a 76-51 win and their third consecutive crown.
Redding finished with 22 points on 7-of-20 shooting and grabbed 6 rebounds.
"The biggest thing I'll remember about this season is getting to state and not winning," Redding said. "The "what ifs' _ what if I had played better? My shot selection was a little off, especially at the beginning of the second half. That's where my leadership skills should have (kicked in), but I wanted us to get back in it so fast, I wasn't thinking."
Roegiers-Jensen had a kinder evaluation.
"I thought South Broward would frustrate Dom, but she kept her head in the game even when things weren't going so great," she said.
Redding is looking toward improving for her final shot at a state title next season. She lifts weights with her brother at St. Petersburg College and runs the football stadium steps at Clearwater High.
The club basketball season is getting under way, and she and Roegiers-Jensen have been twin anchors of the Clearwater Green Wave AAU team that has won six consecutive state championships. This year, however, Redding and Roegiers-Jensen will devote most of their time to the Florida Stars, a squad that participates in adidas-sponsored tournaments around the country.
In her three high school years, about the only goal Redding hasn't fulfilled is a state title. But if the Tornadoes stay intact, her prep career could end with the crowning achievement.
"Someone has to win and someone has to lose, and you learn to accept their fate, but (the state championship game) was painful to watch," Adams said. "Dom has had these dreams and goals, and to come up short _ unless you're a parent and you have a child out there _ it's indescribable.
"I'm pretty sure those freshmen are going to win a couple of state titles before they leave. I hope they can achieve a championship next year while Dom is still there."
statistics in Clearwater's
CLEARWATER 68, BOCA CIEGA 47: 2 points, 3 rebounds.
CLEARWATER, 71, PUNTA GORDA CHARLOTTE 46: 15 points, 10 rebounds, 5 blocks.
CLEARWATER 65, FORT MYERS 48: 27 points, 11 rebounds.
CLEARWATER 63, WINTER SPRINGS 53: 17 points (7-of-16 FG), 2 rebounds, 3 blocks.
SOUTH BROWARD 76, CLEARWATER 51: 22 points (7-of-20 FG), 6 rebounds, 2 blocks.