Anything less than a state title this week will be a disappointment to the Seffner Christian girls basketball team.
The players know it, and so does head coach Greg Fawbush.
In their third Final Four appearance in four years, at 2:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Lakeland Center, Seffner Christian takes on Clearwater’s Calvary Christian in the Class 3A state semifinals. The winner plays the Miami Country Day-Tallahassee Maclay winner in the state championship at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday.
A state title would be meaningful on several levels for the program.
It would highlight a great career for senior point guard Sabrina Whiting, the program’s all-time leading scorer who will make her third trip to Lakeland. For junior forward Peyton Walker, who is also making her third Final Four appearance and is the program’s all-time leading rebounder, a title would bring a sense of redemption.
“It would a great memory to have with the team,” Whiting said. “I’ll never forget that memory. It will always stay with me.”
For Fawbush, the only coach in the program’s history, a title would be the culmination of nearly two decades of work in arguably his greatest, and most trying, coaching season.
On Nov. 1, 2013, 10 days before the start of this season, Fawbush’s mother lost her battle with kidney disease. She never got the chance to watch her son coach. The team planned to travel to Greeneville, Tenn., in December for the Landair Ladies Classic, a national basketball tournament, which was supposed to be the first time Fawbush’s mother, who lived in Tennessee, would see her son on the sideline.
“That was hard because that’s why we went up there,” Fawbush said.
The season, and his players, were things Fawbush could lean on.
“They were there for me through the whole time I was (in Tennessee),” he said. “Every one of the girls texted me every day, called me and said, ‘We got your back, focus on what got need to do.’ They just kept everything going here and when I got back it was just business as normal.”
The Crusaders (25-5), ranked No.3 in the 3A state poll, have defeated opponents by an average margin of 27.3 points per game. They have played eight Florida-ranked opponents this year and are 5-3 in those games, including defeating Calvary Christian, the No. 5 team in 3A, 67-62 in the regular season.
When Fawbush came to Seffner Christian 19 years ago, it was his first coaching job. He had never played on a basketball team before, either. A Tennessee native, every time he tried out for a team, from elementary to college, he didn’t make the cut. But after 19 years as coach, Fawbush is 345-129 and has never had a losing season.
“When I came down to teach, they asked me if I could coach basketball and I said it would be a learning experience. I just worked hard and studied the game.”
Since his first practice, the approach to each season has been the same.
“Defense is our main thing,” Walker said. “If we’re strong on defense and if we’re getting steals, getting rebounds and hustling for the ball, then we’re doing good on offense because defense brings our offense.”
Win or lose, on Friday, Fawbush said he will fly back to Tennessee with his family to deal with the loss of his mother. He said he has yet to have sufficient time to grieve.
Through it all, his desire to lead the program to its first state title has never wavered.
“My focus has been on them and they’ve really been great.”