GIRLS BASKETBALL SHOOTING FOR IT ALL
LOWELLVILLE -- Perfect on the court. Perfect in the classroom.
Lowellville High senior Amanda Nero strives to be both.
"She is a very, very competitive person who won't allow herself to make mistakes," said Lowellville coach Tony Matisi. "She wants to be perfect and she works at it 24/7."
And so far, that effort has paid off.
The 5-foot-8 guard has led the Rockets to a 14-0 record and sports a lofty 3.9 grade-point average.
Nero's quest for perfection may have begun her freshman year after receiving her first B in the classroom and getting a stiff reprimand on the basketball court.
But that quest is far from over.
"I get pretty upset when I get a B," lamented Nero. "And during my freshman year, I let my attitude get me into trouble. I even got hit with a couple of technicals. I thought everyone else was wrong -- the refs, the coaches, everyone. I realized then that I needed to change. I didn't want that [attitude] to take over my game."
One thing Nero points to that has helped her on the court is her participation on the Sharon-based Penn-Ohio AAU basketball team. Led by Nero's 15 points per game, the Blue Storm finished 30-5 and captured the 2004 under-18 Div. II National Championship in Orlando, Fla., last year.
"Playing for them really helped me a lot," said Nero, who played for the Blue Storm during the spring of her sophomore and junior years. "There's really stiff competition, we have a great coach and I got a lot of playing time."
Nero said her ball-handling skills benefited the most as a result of her AAU experience, but Matisi considers her play at the other end of the court to be her greatest improvement.
"AAU made her a more complete player," said Matisi. "She was on the floor with four other girls of equal talent and it helped her pick up her game so much. As a freshman and sophomore, she was a terrible defensive player. Now that's something she does that gets overlooked. We rely on her as much defensively as we do on offense."
As a junior, Nero led the Rockets to a 21-5 record and a shot at a trip to the state tournament, but the team was stopped short when it ran into Mansfield St. Peter's in the regional title game. During that tournament run, Nero broke two Lowellville scoring records. In a district semifinal game against Southington, the Northeast Ohio Inland District player of the year tossed in 40 points to set a new record for girls, and then topped the boys' record high of 42 set in 1974 with a 45-point performance in the regional semifinal game against Windham.
She topped 1,000 points just 12 games into her junior season and even recorded a rare quadruple double -- 30 points, 13 steals, 10 rebounds and 10 assists -- last January in a game against Sebring.
Quite a career
Over her career, Nero, a four-year starter, has averaged 19.5 points per game. This season she is averaging 25 points per game and needs just 49 to break the Lowellville career scoring record of 1,717 points held by Lisa Rotunno. When asked what it would mean to set a new scoring record, Nero modestly shrugged it off.
"They've told me I'm close," said Nero, a daughter of Denise and Mario Nero Sr. "I think my greatest accomplishment was our team going to the regional finals last year. I'll be honored if I break the record, but it's not something I'm focusing on. I'm focused on winning to help the team, not myself. I don't want to let the team and the coaches down."
Nero, who said she got her first basketball and hoop when she was 2 years old, is now looking at life and basketball after graduation. She said she wants to major in sports management and has visited Slippery Rock University, Walsh University and Westminster College. Matisi said larger schools have overlooked Nero.
"They see her size, not her heart, not her dedication," said Lowellville's eighth-year coach. "Those schools are really missing out on what she could do for a program by passing her up."
All in the family
It's no secret that Nero is a competitive person. But, according to her mother, she is not alone. She has two older sisters, Melissa and Tami, who both played for the Rockets, and her brother, Mario Jr., is a 5-foot-11 sophomore point guard for Lowellville.
"People always ask me who would win in a game of one-on-one," said Denise Nero. "I tell them that I don't know because I don't let them play because they'd fight."
Mario, who started for the varsity as a freshman but played only two games before breaking his arm against Springfield, is averaging 14 points and four assists per game for the 10-7 Rockets. Even his coach recognizes how talented Amanda is.
"Mario and Amanda both understand the game and the concept of team," said boys coach Mike Mangines. "He's being groomed to be the leader of this team and has the capability of being every bit as good as Amanda -- we hope."