LIMA — Lima Senior’s Rion Thompson and Essence Cowan have been sharing the basketball since the third grade.
So it’s easy to see how the Spartans’ mainstays have formed a chemistry on the floor this season.
Both were given a leadership role this season after the graduation of Three Rivers Athletic Conference player of the year Indiya Benjamin, who is now playing at Youngstown State.
It’s been a transition for both, after they spent the majority of last season knocking down wide-open shots, after getting a pass from Benjamin, after she flew through the lane well above the speed limit.
“We look for each other a lot this year,” Thompson said. “I like playing with Essence. We’re friends on and off the court. It’s like playing with my sister.
Added Cowan, “It’s fun playing with her. We like getting on the court and competing … and getting the ‘W.’ ”
The Spartans, who have won five of their last six games, stand 11-6, 5-5 in the TRAC.
This year Thompson is averaging 22 points, 5.4 rebounds and 2.7 assists. She scored her 1,000th career point on Jan. 5, and now is over 1,100 career points. She’s coming off back-to-back 30-point games, including 30 in a 70-42 win over Findlay on Saturday.
Next year she should close in on Benjamin’s girls career scoring mark of 1,617 points.
Cowan is averaging 13 points and 3 rebounds. She’s shooting 34 percent on 3-pointers.
“Obviously, Indiya was the leader last year and got everybody involved,” Lima Senior coach Vince Halliday said. “This year they both have to handle the ball a lot more and they’ve done a good job with that. They complement each other well because they both score. Rion is more a scorer, and scores in a variety of different ways. I consider Essence a shooter, because she’s a catch and pure shooter.”
And with no Benjamin around to be the focus of opposing defenses, Thompson and Cowan are seeing plenty of triangle-and-two junk defenses.
“That’s something they never had to deal with, and learning how to get themselves open,” Halliday said.
The 5-foot-9 Thompson and the 5-6 Cowan began playing together in the third grade in the Junior WNBA League. They continued to play together until the seventh grade, when Thompson played for St. Rose and Cowan played at West Junior High. Thompson went to St. Rose from kindergarten to eighth grade.
“We got re-united in high school (at Lima Senior) in the ninth grade,” Thompson said.
As freshmen, both started from Day 1 on the varsity.
Thompson averaged 10.5 points as a freshman, while Cowan averaged 8 points.
As a sophomore, Thompson averaged 20 points and was named first team all-TRAC on the 20-5 team. Cowan averaged 12 points and was honorable mention all-TRAC as a sophomore last year.
As juniors, both have been “leaders by example,” according to Halliday.
“They’re always dependable. They’re never late for practice,” Halliday said. “They’re always here and always putting in the work on their own. And I don’t have to worry about their school or their grades. They’re responsible in that way.”
Thompson’s uncle was Anthony Thompson, who scored 798 points for the Spartans from 1982-84. “A.T.” passed away at the age of 36, in 2002.
Rion’s early basketball influence was her father, Dexter.
“I remember going to the Y shooting with him almost every day,” Thompson said.
Cowan was also guided to the game by her dad, Antoine.
Both Thompson and Cowan have been contacted by a number of colleges, with Thompson getting more attention so far.
“Toledo, (Akron), Bowling Green, Western Michigan and Pitt have contacted me,” Thompson said. “I’d like to go Division I. That’s been my dream.”
For Cowan, Illinois State and Youngstown State have shown the most interest.
One marked difference between the two is that Thompson is hard to miss on the floor, with her florescent, neon-green shoes at home and bright pink shoes on the road.
“My freshman year I started wearing the neon shoes,” she said. “Then, my sophomore year I added in the pink. My friends knew I was going to come up with something bright.”