With districts, quest begins for county’s first state champ in hoops

Weeki Wachee’s Seytia Hill is a walking double-double averaging over 10.0 points and rebounds per game. Photo by JOE DiCRISTOFALO
Weeki Wachee’s Shayleese Vazquez has scored over 1,00 career points and harvested over 1,000 career rebounds for the 21-4 Hornets. Photo by JOE DiCRISTOFALO

GIRLS BASKETBALL

All six Hernando Co.

programs open the 1st

leg of district this week

By TONY CASTRO

Hernando Sport.com

The 43rd FHSAA girls basketball state series begins in earnest on Monday with a treat for local hoop aficionados – three district tourneys within the Hernando County borders.

Four area teams – Brooksville-Central, Brooksville-Hernando, Weeki Wachee and Brooksville-Nature Coast Technical help comprise the seven-team Class 3A, District 7 field competing at NCT.

At Spring Hill, four teams – including host F.W. Springstead – make up the Class 7A, District 8 Tournament.

Along Emerson Road in Brooksville, eight teams -split by geography – will open the Class 2A, District 4 Tournament at two venues including Hernando Christian Academy and Clearwater’s Lakeside Christian.

After the quarterfinals in 2A-4, the four remaining teams will all gather at HCA for the semifinals on Tuesday and finals on Friday night.

Dating back to 1976, though 20 previous Hernando County teams have captured districts, none has ever hoisted a state championship banner.

The ultimate goal for each of county’s six programs to be competing for the state championship Feb. 25-Mar. 2 at the RF Funding Center in Lakeland.

3A-7 landscape

The 3A-7 seven includes seven teams in a single-elimination event featuring: top-seeded Weeki Wachee (11-1 seed record, 21-4 overall), No. 2 seed Crystal River (11-1 seed record, 17-3 overall), No. 3 seed Brooksville-Hernando (6-6-0 seed record, 11-10 overall), No. 4 seed Inverness-Citrus (5-7 seed record, 7-13 overall), No. 5 seed Lecanto (5-7 seed record, 13-10 overall), No. 6 seed Brooksville-Nature Coast Technical (4-8 seed record, 6-16 overall), and No. 7 seed Brooksville-Central (0-12 seed record, 3-18 overall).

Weeki Wachee Hornets

The defending champion is Weeki Wachee, while Crystal River is the defending district runner-up.

Only top seeded, Weeki Wachee, enjoys a first-round bye.

Of the tourney’s six games, the last five will be played along the California Street campus of NCT.

The first quarterfinal – Central at Crystal River – will be played at CRHS at 7 p.m. Monday.

The other two quarterfinals at NCT feature Lecanto vs. Citrus at 6 p.m. on Tuesday followed by NCT vs. archrival Hernando at 7:30 p.m.

On Wednesday at NCT, the CRHS/Central winner will tackle the survivor of HHS/NCT at 6 p.m.

In the nightcap, the Citrus/Lecanto winner clashes against top-seeded WWHS at 7:30 p.m.

Friday’s championship game is set for a 7 p.m. tipoff.

Hornets stumble to finish line

At first glance, any team would gladly trade position with the defending champion Hornets. Right?

Seytia Hill
Shayleese Vazquez

The county’s leading offensive team and toughest defensive team starts three seniors with over 1,000 career points – Seytia Hill, Shayleese “Momma” Vasquez and Mykenna Corbett.

Hill and Vasquez – both standing 5-foot-10 – are walking double-doubles.

Each average over 10.0 points and 10 rebounds per game. Both have collected over 1,000 career rebounds.

Vasquez leads the circuit defensively in blocked shots (2.8 per game).

The 5-foot-10 Corbett compliments the duo by leading Hernando County in three-point shooting (68) and ranks second in foul shooting.

Mykenna Corbett

The Hornets also enjoy the county assist leader in sophomore point guard Morgan McDaniel, who averages eight points per game and dishes six assists per tilt.

Coming off the bench are seniors Rhiannon Randall – a defensive specialist – and athletic Brooke Sereda.

The team’s tallest player, 5-foot-11 frosh Princess Hester – serves as this team’s future.

But before anyone anoints WWHS with its second straight district championship, the Hornets must right the ship.

Over its last five games, the US-19 cagers dropped three, including Friday night’s heart-breaker at Tampa Catholic.

Hill rebounded the last missed shot and attempted a stick back at the buzzer, but the ball rolled off the rim, 50-49 TC.

Most coaches would be fretting about the Hornets’ regular season finish. But most coaches aren’t Mike Munro.

Munro, in his 19th overall season and fourth at WWHS, concentrates on at the bigger picture.

Mike Munro

It’s not like we played bad down the stretch. TC had two kids that signed to play college ball. Our point guard, Morgan (McDaniel), didn’t play in last couple of minutes; there was s screw up with the scorebooks.

“I’m not gonna complain. We played three of our toughest game down the stretch – all on the road. My biggest problem with year is we’ve been in so many blowouts, we haven’t been in many tight games. I’m not greatly concerned,” he said.

On what the Hornets took away, “No one likes losing, but we played some quality teams at their house. We also learned a lot about ourselves.”

In practice, WWHS has concentrated on its shooting – the Hornets shot less than 42 percent in each of the last three setbacks – and honing its execution. This late in the season, you’re not gonna learn anything new, quipped Coach Munro.

WWHS’ plan going forward – to keep the game inside the paint – which is its strength.

“The stars are lined up for us,” noted Munro, “We just have to connect the dots.”

The Hornets are off until Wednesday.

They’ll face the survivor of Lecanto/Citrus.

The Hornets swept the regular season series from both teams this winter.

“The last time we played Lecanto (a 67-33 win), we played really well,” shared Munro. “We came out hot and had a tremendous (36-point) first quarter. We have to continue doing what we need to do.”

Though WWHS won the coin flip over CRHS for the top seed, Munro is not boasting about any possible titles.

“Everybody is 0-0. The district tournament is why we all play the game,” he said. “We’ve got to believe we can win it, but there are other good coaches like (NCT’s) Emily (Gore) and Ron (Allan at Lecanto), who plan on winning, too.

“To me, the dark horse in Nature Coast. because they’re playing at home.”

Leopards leery of Sharks

One of the most intriguing match-ups pits No. 6 seed NCT vs. No. 3 Hernando.

After the Leopards bested Anclote, NCT, Springstead and South Sumter, the Purple and Gold climbed above .500.

But almost as quickly, the Leopards closed out the regular season this past week falling to Weeki Wachee and tiny HCA.

At 11-10 overall, the Leopards up and down season mirrors its won-lost record.

HHS, which lost all three meetings to NCT last winter, has solved the Sharks twice this time: 64-20 and 55-51.

The issue is can the Leopards return last year’s favor with its own three-game series brooming?

Dominique Jacobs

“It’s hard to beat a team three times,” underscored first-year HHS mentor Dominique Jacobs. “We can’t let the fact that this is districts, to treat this game as special.

“We know we’ve got to bring it now. To me, it’s a whole new season.”

The Leopards – who do not utilize MaxPreps – are led by the inside/outside combination of lightning quick guard Nakayla Roberts and outside threat, Hayden Kimbrough.

Nakayla Roberts
Hayden Kimbrough

On whether it’s a foregone conclusion, the top two seeds – WWHS and CRHS – will meet in the finals, “We have to hope and believe that anything can happen,” explained Coach Jacobs.

Defensively, the same issues have been giving Jacobs premature gray hair.

“Every day I’m telling the girls to put a body on somebody and to crash the boards. These are things they should know,” she emphasized. “All the little things add up when you’re trying to win a game.“

Jacobs has pleasantly savored her team’s maturity.

“What we’ve done well? For me, it’s watching them grow, especially in what to call on the floor. The point guard used to wait for me to call out what we’re doing. Now, the girls are doing it on their own. Everyone is involved and the bench is mixing with the starters.“

Health-wise, “We’re coming in a good position, but it could be better,” shared Jacobs. “One thing is for certain, we’ll need all our girls against Nature Coast.”

According to Jacobs, Hernando will solve NCT, “If we crash the boards, especially on the offensive side. That last Nature Coast game felt like a district game. They brought it (energy). We need to be prepared.”

Sharks on the mend

NCT was hoping to utilize the Hernando Holiday Tournament to push a comeback.

Instead, the Sharks opened 2019 with nine consecutive losses.

Angelis Diaz

In between, Angelis Diaz tweaked an ankle and Alexis Dross aggravated a sore knee.

Alexis Dross

Fortunately, Diaz is expected to be fine for this week but Dross may not be able to play.

According to veteran skipper, Emily Gore, if Dross can’t go, look for Kendyl Helfand and Heaven Lee to alternate in her spot.

After dropping nine in a row, Gore’s troops bested Central and Springstead – giving the 10th-year mentor a sense turning things around.

But NCT concluded the season with double-digit losses to Wildwood and Land O’ Lakes.

After 6-foot-2 center Kayla Langley transferred, senior guard Danielle Crima has carried the team offensively with a career-best 11.6 ppg average.

Danielle Crima

From the perimeter, Crima is a sharpshooter with 58 treys.

Crystal Ortiz

Inside the paint, senior Crystal Ortiz (9.0 ppg) and Lee (8.5 ppg) have helped eased the offensive burden off Crima.

Diaz, who has been hobbled lately, serves as as the team’s finest playmaker averaging 5.4 assists per game.

“I thought we built a little momentum after beating Central and Springstead at their place. But it’s been a struggle. We followed up playing a tough Wildwood team.

“Our No. 1 focus is beating Hernando,” stressed Gore. “This entire year has been a learning experience. In some games we start off strong, in others we’ve played better in the second half.”

Emily Gore

On what’s been giving Gore gray hair, “Just the lack of consistency. It’s good to know what you’re getting from each player every game. In one game, we’ll have a great game and in the next, she’ll be quiet.”

In the match-up up against Hernando, “We played them much better the second time. We had a 10-11 point lead going into the fourth quarter, before the shots stopped dropping in. We had some good looks,” noted Gore. “We just couldn’t finish that game. We had two tough games earlier that week. I thought maybe our legs were gone.”

“Hernando gave us fits in the first meeting. Ortiz was not there and Dross was ejected early. It just went from bad to worse quickly. The second game was a much better idea of who we are.”

Gore, an eternal optimist, hopes that Sharks can simply survive the first salvo against Hernando.

“The No. 3-6 seeds are pretty equal in ability. I think we’ve got a shot (at the finals) if we can get to the second round..

“Considering the type of the season we’ve had, after beating Central and Springstead, I started feeling a little confident about districts. To me the biggest advantage any team has in the playoffs, is playing at home.”

In crystal balling the tourney, “If either Crystal River or Weeki Wachee don’t make the finals, I don’t think it’ll be that huge a shock. It’s been that kind of a season.”

Eagles seek elusive first crown

The SHS gymnasium banners surrounding the court, say it.

In a building honoring past accomplishments, the Springstead girls’ basketball program has yet to etch its first district title.

Sunlake Seahawks

Its next opportunity to break its inglorious streak begins at 7:30 p.m. Monday against top-seeded Land O’ Lakes-Sunlake.

That’s the same Sunlake program that has captured back-to-back-to-back district titles.

Before this current run, the Seahawks had never hoisted a championship banner.

Should the 5-20 Eagles shock the 14-9 ’Hawks, the Spring Hill cagers would face the survivor of Monday’s 6 p.m. semifinal between 7-18 Mitchell and 16-5 Land O’ Lakes at 7 p.m. Wednesday again in Spring Hill.

Sydney Sauto
Talia Russell

Minus two-time Hernando County Player of the Year Reagan Huden and rebounding machine Yhanni Batts, this season has been a struggle for rebuilding first-year mentor Lonnie White.

SHS is led by senior guard Sydney Sauto, who is averaging 14.0 ppg – ranking third in the local circuit in scoring.

Sophomore Talia Russell – an All-County track and field performer and state medalist as a freshman in 2018 – serves as the Eagles’ second scoring option at 7.0 ppg and a team-best 6.5 rebounds per game.

Save a forfeit nod against Lakeland-Kathleen – when the Red Devils failed to show up for its MLK Game on Jan. 19, the Mariner Boulevard crew has dropped its last seven games.

Yet, long-term substitute teacher-turned coach White believes in his team.

Lonnie White

“For these girls the Cool Aid is on the table. They just haven’t drank it,” he quipped. “I feel the seniors are bought in. They’ll out-rebound people and are not afraid of facing physical teams.”

On heading into the playoffs on a downward slope, “I told the girls at mid-season, we’ve been working for districts,“ expressed White. “That’s when we want to shock people.”

To date, White has been extremely satisfied with his team’s conditioning, “Our conditioning is great,” he said. “A lot of the girls that weren’t with us a lot during the summer, are still running now. So we’re doing something right.”

As far as issues, it been the same area of concern: turnovers.

“Since we don’t have the shooters we had in the past, we have to take care of the basketball.”

On facing a Sun lake squad that has solved Spring stead twice this winter, 55-20 and 52-35, “We have to stop their dribble penetration; it’s that simple. We have to hope they’re not making shots consistently. I’d like to see a little more high post action from us. One thing that’s in our favor is we can beat a press.”

In crystal balling 7A-8, “I’m a little biased,” noted White. “I was hoping to face Sun lake in the finals. We don’t have a good record, but as another told me records don’t matter come district play.

“We’ve got to go in and play our game. Who knows? Maybe its Springstead vs. Mitchell in the finals, ” he said. “To me, it’s wide open. We know we have to play disciplined basketball.”

Lions seek rematch with Bayshore

The hottest team in Hernando County, has the smallest enrollment: Hernando Christian Academy.

The Lions have reeled off 17 wins across its last 18 tilts.

It’s lone setback arrived Jan. 24 against 21-1 Bayshore Christian, 57-26.

Yet, HCA’s 10th-year skipper, Mike Drummond, yearns for a rematch – hopefully in the finals.

HCA will open the eight-team event at 7:30 p.m. Monday against Ocala-Meadowbrook.

With a quarterfinal victory, HCA would play at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday against the survivor of Zephyrhills Christian Academy vs. Lakeside Christian.

With two wins in two days. HCA would earn a berth in the finals – most likely – against defending 2A-4 champion Bayshore Christian at 7 p.m. Friday in Brooksville.

After injuries decimated his roster last winter, senior Amelia Jackson paces the Lions in scoring at 14.2 ppg while sophomore Esther Jackson averages 12.6 ppg.

Junior Cassidy Coffman (5.2 ppg) and senior Lauren Cantrell (5.0 ppg) are the team’s No. 3-4 scoring options.

HCA enters riding a three-game win streak highlighted by perhaps the program’s biggest upset – a 52-46 nod at the Michael A. Imhoff Gymnasium Friday against Hernando, spoiling the Leopards’ Senior Night.

“I’m still on Cloud 9 over that one,” beamed Coach Drummond. “It’s a pretty big when a private school of our size beats any public school in this county. The win gives us, I feel, a great deal of momentum heading into districts.”

Drummond has been most pleased with his team’s increasing basketball IQ, “This team has gotten much better about understanding the game,” noted Drummond. “We’re an undersized team. We lost one of our expected best rebounders (Maddie Tyler) to Hernando. We’ve done better than I expected in rebounding. I’d love to have one 5-foot-11 or a six-footer, but we’ve done a great job with what we’ve got.”

Drummond is most concerned about the size factor when HCA confronts a much taller Meadowbrook team on Monday.

“They’ve got some big girls. They’re just young,“ said Drummond. “Our biggest challenge is just staying focused. We can’t afford to look ahead.”

Things aren’t perfect at HCA.

Earlier in the season, Abigail Jackson had to leave the team for personal issues and Cantrell has been hobbled by a troublesome high ankle sprain.

Cantrell is expected to be at 80 percent health by Monday while Coffman has also been slowed by a sore ankle.

“There’s been a lot of little things you can’t control as a coach,” said Drummond. “The only thing we can do come Monday is play our game. We really pride ourselves in playing good defense.”

In predicting 2A-4, “Anybody who sees us and Bayshore will pick Bayshore,” said Drummond. “But we were only down eight at halftime against them. They are head and shoulders better than anybody we’ve played, but anybody can lose on any given night. We would have to play a perfect game to have a chance.”

Drummond’s greatest concern in the semis – should HCA win on Monday – is that they haven’t seen ZCA since early November.

“We had a feeling we might be seeing Lakeside in the playoffs so the last time we played, all we played were the seniors. Playing at home is a big advantage for us in our gym.”

Lions seek rematch with Bayshore

The hottest team in Hernando County, has the smallest enrollment: Hernando Christian Academy.

The Lions have reeled off 17 wins across its last 18 tilts.

It’s lone setback arrived Jan. 24 against 21-1 Bayshore Christian, 57-26.

Yet, HCA’s 10th-year skipper, Mike Drummond, yearns for a rematch – hopefully in the finals.

HCA will open the eight-team event at 7:30 p.m. Monday against Ocala-Meadowbrook.

With a quarterfinal victory, HCA would play at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday against the survivor of Zephyrhills Christian Academy vs. Lakeside Christian.

With two wins in two days. HCA would earn a berth in the finals – most likely – against defending 2A-4 champion Bayshore Christian at 7 p.m. Friday in Brooksville.

Amelia Jackson

A

Esther Jackson

fter injuries decimated his roster last winter, senior Amelia Jackson paces the Lions in scoring at 14.2 ppg while sophomore Esther Jackson averages 12.6 ppg.

Junior Cassidy Coffman (5.2 ppg) and senior Lauren Cantrell (5.0 ppg) are the team’s No. 3-4 scoring options.

HCA enters riding a three-game win streak highlighted by perhaps the program’s biggest upset – a 52-46 nod at the Michael A. Imhoff Gymnasium Friday against Hernando, spoiling the Leopards’ Senior Night.

“I’m still on Cloud 9 over that one,” beamed Coach Drummond. “It’s a pretty big when a private school of our size beats any public school in this county. The win gives us, I feel, a great deal of momentum heading into districts.”

Mike Drummond

Drummond has been most pleased with his team’s increasing basketball IQ, “This team has gotten much better about understanding the game,” noted Drummond. “We’re an undersized team. We lost one of our expected best rebounders (Maddie Tyler) to Hernando. We’ve done better than I expected in rebounding. I’d love to have one 5-foot-11 or a six-footer, but we’ve done a great job with what we’ve got.”

Drummond is most concerned about the size factor when HCA confronts a much taller Meadowbrook team on Monday.

“They’ve got some big girls. They’re just young,“ said Drummond. “Our biggest challenge is just staying focused. We can’t afford to look ahead.”

Things aren’t perfect at HCA.

Cassidy Coffman

Earlier in the season, Abigail Jackson had to leave the team for personal issues and Cantrell has been hobbled by a troublesome high ankle sprain.

Cantrell is expected to be at 80 percent health by Monday while Coffman has also been slowed by a sore ankle.

There’s been a lot of little things you can’t control as a coach,” said Drummond. “The only thing we can do come Monday is play our game. We really pride ourselves in playing good defense.”

In predicting 2A-4, “Anybody who sees us and Bayshore will pick Bayshore,” said Drummond. “But we were only down eight at halftime against them. They are head and shoulders better than anybody we’ve played, but anybody can lose on any given night. We would have to play a perfect game to have a chance.”

Drummond’s greatest concern in the semis – should HCA win on Monday – is that they haven’t seen ZCA since early November.

“We had a feeling we might be seeing Lakeside in the playoffs so the last time we played, all we played were the seniors. Playing at home is a big advantage for us in our gym.”

AT A GLANCE

WHAT – Class 6A, District 7 Girls Basketball Tournament.

Nature Coast Technical Sharks

WHO – Seven teams in a single-elimination event featuring: top-seeded Weeki Wachee (11-1 seed record, 21-4 overall), No. 2 seed Crystal River (11-1 seed record, 17-3 overall), No. 3 seed Brooksville-Hernando (6-6-0 seed record, 11-10 overall), No. 4 seed Inverness-Citrus (5-7 seed record, 7-13 overall), No. 5 seed Lecanto (5-7 seed record, 13-10 overall), No. 6 seed Brooksville-Nature Coast Technical (4-8 seed record, 6-16 overall), and No. 7 seed Brooksville-Central (0-12 seed record, 3-18 overall). The defending champion is Weeki Wachee, while Crystal River is the defending district runner-up.

WHERE – Nature Coast Technical High School, 4057 California St., Brooksville.

WHEN – Feb. 5 quarterfinals set for 6 and 7:30 p.m. Semifinals set for 6 and 7:30 p.m. on Feb. 6. Finals set for 7 p.m. Feb. 8.

AT STAKE – Top two teams advance to the Class 6A, Region II quarterfinals on Thursday, Feb. 14.

AT A GLANCE

WHAT – Class 7A, District 8 Girls Basketball Tournament.

Springstead Eagles

WHO – Four teams in a single-elimination event featuring: No. 1 seed Land O’ Lakes-Sunlake (5-1 seed record, 14-9 overall), No. 2 seed Land O’ Lakes (5-1 seed, 16-5 overall overall), No. 3 seed New Port Richey-Mitchell (1-5 seed record, 7-18 overall), No. 4 Spring Hill-Springstead (1-5 seed record, 5-20 overall). Sunlake is the defending district champion and Mitchell is the defending district runner-up.

WHERE – F.W. Springstead gymnasium, 3300 Mariner Blvd., Spring Hill.

WHEN – Feb. 4 semifinals set for 6 and 7:30 p.m. Finals set for 7 p.m. Feb. 6.

AT STAKE – Top two teams advance to the Class 7A, Region II quarterfinals on Thursday, Feb. 14.

AT A GLANCE

WHAT – Class 2A, District 4 Girls Basketball Tournament.

Hernando Christian Academy Lions

WHO – Eight teams in a single-elimination event featuring: North division: No. 1 seed Brooksville-Hernando Christian Academy (3-0 seed, 19-2 overall), No. 2 seed Ocala-St. John-Lutheran (2-1 seed record, 13-7 overall), No. 3 seed Lecanto-Seven Rivers Christian (1-2 seed record, 11-8 overall), No. 4 Ocala-Meadowbrook Academy (0-3 seed record, 7-10 overall). South division: No. 1 seed Tampa-Bayshore Christian (3-0 seed record, 21-1 overall), No. 2 seed Clearwater-Lakeside Christian (2-1 seed record, 7-8 overall). No. 3 seed Zephyrhills Christian Academy (1-2 seed record, 6-7 overall), No. 4 seedTampa Bay Christian (0-3 seed record, 1-11 overall). Bayshore is the defending district champion and St. John Lutheran is the defending district runner-up.

WHERE – Hernando Christian Academy, 7200 Emerson Rd., Brooksville.

WHEN – Feb. 4 quarterfinals set for 5 and 6:30 p.m. at HCA (north division) and Clearwater-Lakeside Christian (south division). Feb. 5 semifinals 5 and 6:30 p.m. at HCA. Feb. 8 finals at 7 p.m. at HCA.

AT STAKE – Top two teams advance to the Class 2A, Region II semifinals on Thursday, Feb. 14.

 

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