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Pasco Tribune

Pasco Tribune girls basketball preview

Special correspondent
Published:   |   Updated: March 21, 2013 at 07:06 AM

New Districts

Class 7A-District 9 – Chamberlain, Freedom, Gaither, Steinbrenner, Wiregrass Ranch

Class 6A-10 – Land O' Lakes, Mitchell, River Ridge, Sunlake, Tarpon Springs

Class 5A-8 – Anclote, Fivay, Gulf, Hudson, Pasco, Ridgewood, Wesley Chapel, Zerphyrhills

Class 3A-8 – Bishop McLaughlin, Brooks-DeBartolo, Carrollwood Day, Seffner Christian, Tampa Prep

Class 2A-8 – Academy at the Lakes, Bayshore Christian, Cambridge, Citrus Park Christian, Brooksville Hernando Christian, Tampa Bay Christian

Teams to Watch

1. Academy at the Lakes: The Wildcats came into last season with little expectations as a small private school out of Land O' Lakes, but the late addition of coach Karim Nohra changed all that. He took a team in the 2009-2010 season that went 0-15 and went on to lead them to its first region final appearance, and Nohra's third consecutive. Academy at the Lakes will now be looking to make its consecutive region final and has the firepower to do so, with Andrea Mauger and Vanessa Vincent returning to lead the Wildcats, they will be one of the toughest squads to handle around. Despite the loss of Marjorie Rivera, who has moved out of the area, the Wildcats should benefit from another influx of transfers into the area, with point guard Samantha Fernandez transferring from Oldsmar Christian and Amelia Oliver coming from Sunlake.

2. Gulf: The Buccaneers lost one of the most prolific scorers in Pasco County history in graduated Nicole Adams, who ended her career with over 2,400 points and averaged 29.7 points per game last season. In addition to Adams leaving, Gulf also had an unexpected transfer over the summer, with junior forward Leighlani Paselio moving to Hawaii. Paselio averaged 14.1 points last year and the Bucs also lost center Caitlin Corbitt to graduation. Gulf coach Mike Quarto says this is one of his greenest teams he has coached and that may be attributed to the Buccaneers' lineup, which features only one senior. Look for Gulf to start off slow, but begin to jell together and stay atop the county girls circuit.

3. Ridgewood: Last season was a breakthrough year for the Rams, as they pulled off a solid 17-9 campaign and nearly made the postseason. This time around, Ridgewood comes in as a possible favorite to reach the playoffs and make some noise, as they return leading-scorer Natsha Morris, who averaged just under 13 points per game last year. Sophomore forward Mark Kujak will need to be a force on the boards again for Ridgewood, as she averaged 9.4 rebounds per game. Losing guard Stephanie Berchiolly to graduation hurts in the scoring bulk for Ridgewood, but the Rams have a solid core returning. Morris and Kujak will have to be the two key players that drive Ridgewood to possibly 20-plus wins this season.

4. River Ridge: The Royal Knights made strides last season, with River Ridge notching victories over Ridgewood and Fivay. River Ridge returns a good amount of its key starters from last year's 12-16 squad. Coach Joeyn Dearsman will look to lead the Royal Knights to possibly being an above .500 team in the 2011-2012 season that will be in a winnable district, with county foes Mitchell and Land O' Lakes, who both lost a lot of their key starters due to graduation. Watch for the Royal Knights to possibly win a district title this season.

5. Mitchell: Not much has been said about the Mustangs over the off-season, but you may see this team soar up in the rankings if their young talent can adjust to the varsity competition quickly. Mitchell will benefit from several players from last year's undefeated junior varsity squad, and also return leading-scorer Nina Argento. Mitchell coach Jacob Tavo believes his squad could improve upon last year's playoff berth and with Land O' Lakes losing several of its key players from last year, could be contending with River Ridge for the Class 6A-District 10 crown.

Fresh Faces

Phyllis Crain, Land O' Lakes: Former University of Tampa assistant women's basketball coach Phyllis Crain comes into a difficult situation, with a team that went to the Class 4A region finals last season, but lost several of their key starters from last year. This season, though, Crain will have the services of returning forward Simone Brown and the first-year coach should be able to find success and possibly lead the Gators to an above .500 season.

John Gant, Wiregrass Ranch: The messy divorce between Wiregrass Ranch and former coach Greg Finkel, with the controversy of a possible recruiting scandal, has now left Gant to take over the program. But Gant still has plenty of talent to work with, as Kelly McCaffrey returns and the Bulls had a good summer of workouts. Look for Gant to turn around a program that went through some rough times last season.

Laurie Tyszko, Hudson: The former Land O' Lakes coach will have a much different transition to Hudson, as the Cobras went through a rough 1-20 record last season and have a lot of rebuilding to do. Tyszko, though, knows what it takes to win, as she led the Gators last winter to the Class 4A region final, only to fall to Leesburg. The Cobras will make improvements with Tyszko at the helm.

Be Careful ...

Land O' Lakes: The Gators lost all-everything guard Shanel Sweet (18.4 points average) to graduation, but Land O' Lakes does return forward Simone Brown, who proved to be a force in the paint last season. Despite losing top guard Sweet and center Nicole Woodard, the Gators, with Brown returning, still remain a threat in Pasco County.

Wiregrass Ranch: With former coach Finkel out at the helm, new Bulls coach John Gant will have a tough road ahead of him in putting back together a once strong, proud Wiregrass Ranch squad. But the transition may not be too difficult with small forward Kelly McCaffrey returning to the roster. Watch out for Wiregrass Ranch to still be a threat in district play.

Hudson: The Cobras were not a great team last year at 1-21-1, but with the infusion of new coach Laurie Tyszko, who led Land O' Lakes last season to the Class 4A region final, Hudson's rebuilding process may come along a bit quicker then most might expect. Look for Hudson to make some strong strides with Tyszko at the helm.

Fivay: Fivay coach Greg Bollinger put together a solid first season in the 2010-2011 campaign, as the Falcons went 9-17 and nabbed some quality wins. With the Falcons returning freshman leading-scorer Alicia Artley, who averaged nine points per game last season, Fivay should be a team on the rise this season.

Pasco: The Pirates were a very off-and-on team last season, but return coach Troy Moore to the bench, and with a solid off-season over the summer, have improved overall as a team. With sophomore guard Brianca Roberts returning, who averaged 11 points per game last season, the Pirates should improve off their nine wins from last season.

Keep Your Eye On …

Simone Brown, Land O' Lakes: Her presence down in the paint was dominant at times last season against opponents, as the 5-foot-11 forward snatched over 12 boards a game and averaged a little over 13 points per game. Brown, who only scored more then 20 points once last winter, will be depended on very much this season, with Sweet's graduation. Expect Brown to average closer to 20 points per game and 15 rebounds a game this season.

Kelly McCaffrey, Wiregrass Ranch: McCaffrey was the key cog last season for Wiregrass Ranch and this season will have to do much of the same, with key seniors like Lauren Gould and Briahanna Jackson departing due to graduation. The small forward averaged 15.4 points a game and will be leaned to lead the Bulls. Watch for the senior to average more around 20 points game this season.

Lexy Schulman, Gulf: The junior floor general will be depended on more then ever to run Quarto's motion offense with Adams and Paselio gone. Schulman started every game at point guard last season for the Buccaneers and averaged 5.7 assists per game, but will need to help carry some of the scoring load now with four key seniors now graduated.

Natasha Morris, Ridgewood: There were few players last winter that knew how to get to the free-throw line quite like Morris did, as the senior guard went to the line 63 times and made 46 of her attempts. Morris scored 20-plus points four times last season and that number should balloon to around 10, with three key seniors graduated. The slasher knows how to create her own shot and will be among the leaders in free-throw percentage.

Nina Argento, Mitchell: The scrappy guard last season filled up the stat sheet in many categories, as Argento averaged around nine points, nearly six boards and also over two steals per game for the 16-13 Mustangs. Now the senior will be looking to improve off of those numbers and should be Mitchell's best player this winter and lead the Mustangs to their second consecutive playoff berth.

Kayla Kivinski, Gulf: Kivinski was a key bench player last season for Gulf, but now is expected to be possibly Gulf's go-to-player to score on the court. The sophomore guard averaged 5.5 points per game as a freshman and nailed eight of 40 three-pointers last season. Look for Kivinski to be one of the county's leading scorers.

Amelia Oliver, Academy at the Lakes: The Sunlake transfer is going to be a big contributor for the Wildcats this season, as Oliver averaged near 16 points per game and 4.6 rebounds a contest. The senior also nabbed 4.5 steals per game and is going to be a key component of Academy at the Lakes' road back to a second-consecutive region final.

Alicia Artley, Fivay: Artley last season was a near double-double player for the Falcons, as she averaged 9.1 points and 10 boards a game for Fivay. And that was all while she was a freshman. The sophomore should be good for a double-double almost every time out and will be a force this season.

Ketera Bradham, Anclote: Bradham, as a freshman, was a threat from the three-point line in every game, with the freshman nailing 56 from downtown. Averaging 8.5 points per game last season for 3-19 Anclote last winter, Bradham with a solid off-season has improved on her overall game and should be more of an all-around player.

Samantha Fernandez, Academy at the Lakes: The Oldsmar Christian transfer provides the Wildcats with a quick, versatile option at point guard and teamed up with Oliver, provide a lethal combo on pick and rolls. Fernandez should help Academy at the Lakes improve, despite some key losses over the off-season.

Tiffany Echevarria, Wesley Chapel: The junior guard will have to step up in place of graduated shooting guard Hannah Noble, who scored just under 20 points per game for the Wildcats last season. Echevarria, who averaged 8.8 points last winter, will be the most experienced returner and will be depended on for leadership as well as rebuilding the Wesley Chapel team.

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