Central High School
By Chris Bernhardt | Hernando TodayLast season, two Hernando County crews managed to compile a winning record, and both went on to the regional quarterfinals.
Published: November 11, 2012
Published: November 11, 2012
However, neither Nature Coast nor Hernando Christian Academy can exactly feel comfortable about repeating that success in 2012-13.
In the case of the Lady Sharks, who went 21-4 while earning the Class 5A, District 7 and county championships, all five starters graduated.
Similarly, the Lady Lions, 12-11 and 2A-8 runners-up a season ago, won't return four starters thanks to graduation.
So, it stands to reason that another local squad will rise up and take control of the county as those teams attempt to fill significant voids – but maybe not.
With every program in some phase of a rebuilding mode, forecasting how this campaign will shake out has become a considerable challenge.
Can any of the six teams pull together and snag a regional berth? The answer to that question remains a mystery, seemingly more now than in any recent season.
Nature Coast experienced a bit of a renaissance in 2010-11. A program that started its existence with six consecutive regional berths and seven straight winning marks rebounded from going 8-14.
A mixture of experienced returnees, a key transfer and an unusual height advantage lifted the Lady Sharks back into prominence.
Courtney Crawford arrived from Hernando as a senior and wound up earning Hernando Today Player of the Years honors.
She teamed with Lyndsey Pospisil to form a tall and dominant front line that proved difficult for opponents to match.
Those two plus point guard Carcy Bossey earned All-County selections. Amy Holmes and twins Je'Nel and Je'Ney Yore rounded out the primary rotation.
With all of them gone, third-year head coach Emily Gore will turn to a handful of reserves from last season, hoping they can make the leap into the spotlight.
"We obviously lost our core group of seniors," Gore said. "We had a great season last year. But I feel we have the potential to repeat as district champions. We're young, but there's a lot of potential."
This might all seem a bit too familiar for Gore. As head volleyball coach, her team had one returning starter from a back-to-back Elite Eight squad and ended up going 4-22.
"It's a little bit different," Gore said. "We've got more varsity experience coming back. They didn't get a ton of minutes, but they had a lot of practice time at the varsity level and some minutes. We did some offseason stuff as a team, so I think that helped.
"I think the talent overall will be different than volleyball. It should be stronger."
Senior Alyssa Lamberson, and juniors Catherine Hurtado and Nakia Tyson are the top returnees, and none of them averaged higher than 2.7 points per game a season ago.
Sophomore Mirandas Jones, a transfer from Pasco High, has the task of replacing Bossey at the point, while fellow sophomore Rita Jarque attempts to fill in up front.
"We're not going to be that team that outruns you," Gore said. "We have to be a very smart, control team. I think we'll rely on defense. Our defense will create opportunities for us offensively.
"We're waiting to see who is going to be a consistent scorer for us. But we need to be solid defensively, do the little things.
"I think the best part is we've got some core girls coming back who were a part of this team last year. They experienced success and it made them hungry to continue that success."
The team the Lady Sharks defeated in the 5A-7 title tilt, Tavares, graduated four starters from that game, and three of its top four scorers.
"I think our district is kind of almost up for grabs at this point, until some establishes themselves," Gore said.
"I think it's going to take some consistent effort. The girls still have to learn they have to show up and practice hard every day."
As for HCA, the bad news is it's still locked in a district with Academy at the Lakes, a team it lost to three times by a combined 236-55.
But there is good news. The Lady Lions figure to remain competitive with the other two 2A-8 clubs, Tampa-Cambridge Christian and Tampa Bay Christian.
Another encouraging sign: a sudden upswing in numbers. HCA has 15 girls on its varsity roster, pulled from a wide variety of places.
There are those coming back into the fold, such as senior center Ashley McKay (5.3 points, 4.9 rebounds, 1.7 steals per game last season).
Plus there are three home-schooled players, and three foreign exchange students – one from Germany, two from China.
"We're pretty young, mostly freshmen and sophomores," HCA head coach Mike Drummond said. "We've got some girls who have some skills. They've just got to learn the game and get some experience.
"I expect us to at least compete. We have a shot at second place (in the district) and to go to playoffs. It all depends on how we progress. We have girls who have played before but don't have a lot of experience.
"I think we're just going to be a real scrappy team. We have to work hard for the points we get, play tough defense, be scrappy and create points off that scrappiness."
The team in the best position to make a leap forward is one that hasn't made much in the way of progress for nearly 20 years.
Springstead's last winning record came in 1992-93 – when it went 10-9 for one of its only two winning seasons.
Over the past 11 campaigns, the Lady Eagles haven't produced more than eight victories, including a 5-19 showing in 2011-12.
But the way things finished in George Bennett's first season at the helm gave the impression that the team had turned a corner.
Springstead defeated both Hernando and Central prior to its season-ending loss to Citrus in the 6A-6 semifinals.
Not to mention, the Lady Eagles actually return several key, and young, players.
Junior forward Anna Poholek is arguably the top returnee in the county, having earned All-County honors as a sophomore averaging 10.8 points, 8.4 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 1.7 steals.
"We try to keep expectations high regardless," Bennett said. "We've got a goal. We want to be the first girls (regional) playoff team from Springstead.
"Last year were hoping to do well. Now we expect to do well. We expect to be competitive."
Two years removed from producing a 0-20 mark, it suddenly doesn't seem so unrealistic that the Lady Eagles could make some noise.
In addition to Poholek, there's junior Hailey Enjeneski (9.7 points, 1.6 steals last season) and sophomore Emmy Harris (5.3 points, 3.9 rebounds).
Freshman Alyssa Clifton could become another key contributor as the season goes on.
But certainly, much will fall on Poholek's shoulders, tying her potential emergence together with the team.
"I expect her to compete for county Player of the Year," Bennett said. "She knows it. I've made it plain to her.
"She knows what she can be. She knows the expectations are high. She also knows she's going to be on everybody's radar."
Navigating through 6A-6 won't be an easy task, especially overcoming Ocala-West Port – seeking its 11th consecutive regional berth – as well as Citrus and Lecanto.
However, the Lady Eagles are still early in the process of turning around their dreary history.
"We want to be respected," Bennett said. "We know Springstead girls basketball has never been respected, and we want to be respected very, very badly."
Hernando went 11-15 last season, and has to make up for the departure of the county's leading scorer, Remi Manuel.
"The last two years, if you look at what we've lost, it's a lot," Hernando head coach Kevin Bittinger said. "We're definitely rebuilding, but the expectation is still to compete.
"There's going to be a ton of development. At the same time, we're going to try to put a winning product on the floor."
Ebone Plummer, a senior center/power forward for the Lady Leopards, garnered an All-County nod as the county's top rebounder at 13.1 per contest.
"Obviously she's going to have to control the paint for us," Bittinger said. "It's her senior year. She's a captain. She's got to step up as a leader.
"I wouldn't be surprised if she grabs 50 percent of our rebounds. She's going to have to for us to be successful, and she knows that."
Beyond her, though, Hernando is mostly like its county brethren, full of youth and inexperience.
That will make it tough to stay afloat in 5A-7, where Bittinger feels Crystal River is the early favorite. For now, the coach just wants to move forward.
"I expect the girls to come to practice every day to work," Bittinger said. "Come to games and expect to win. We need to develop and grow a little bit and good things are going to happen."
Central (6-15 in 2011-12) faces similar circumstances. Like Hernando, the Lady Bears have a solid player in the paint in sophomore power forward Christina Lewis.
Lewis averaged 7.3 points and 8.0 rebounds as a freshman, and she and senior point guard Rhy Venturella are the lone returning starters.
"Be competitive, have a better record than last year," said Central's ninth-year head coach Penny Gressick of the team goals. "We never really jelled throughout the whole year. We're hoping this year we're able to do that."
Only two years ago, the Lady Bears ruled the county, especially with the dominant post play of Raqurra Ishmar and Tikiera Relaford.
The 5-foot-10 Lewis and 6-foot Lauren Grimsland hope to replicate at least some of that production, as Central tries to gain a foothold within the county and 6A-6 play.
"We've got height," Gressick said. "We're pretty tall. We'll try to get the ball down to the post like the good old days. And we're really fast. But we have to use that to our advantage."
Weeki Wachee finished up its inaugural varsity run 0-19, and the Lady Hornets are still trying to lay a foundation.
"We're looking for our first-ever varsity win," Weeki Wachee head coach Craig Witte said. "We'll be more competitive. We'll try to build on how competitive we were last year and try to build the program."
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