When Audrey Ramsey sank the buzzer-beating 3-pointer to win the Class 9A state championship game a year ago for Boca Raton, she wasn’t the first option – or even the second. Those, of course, were Bobcat senior standouts Rachel Levy and Grace Marko.
It was fitting, though. The same way Marko dished that pass to the now-junior point guard for the game-winner against Miami Ferguson for the title, that Levy-Marko tandem has now passed the baton to Ramsey and senior Hannah Pratt at Boca.
One of two defending state champs to come out of Broward or Palm Beach County (Grandview Prep being the other) can no longer rely on Levy, last year’s Palm Beach large schools Player of the Year who is now at Harvard, or Marko, currently a freshman at Boston College.
Pratt, a Columbia signee, is the Bobcats’ only senior and one of three returning starters. Ramsey this year may be taking more last-second shots by design and not because Option A and B were taken away.
“We’re putting a lot of pressure on them to lead,” Boca coach Nhu Nguyen said. “They know how to find each other on the court. They’ve been playing with each other for three years in a smaller role.”
Along with Pratt and Ramsey, Nguyen looks to get a group of sophomores led by returning starter Kelsi Mingo involved. The young Bobcats may take some losses early in the season against a tough national schedule, but Nguyen appreciates the experience for his players in getting them battle tested.
“Our thing this year is ‘How good do we want to be?’ We’re not focusing on our wins and losses,” he says. “We’re more focusing on ‘Are we going to be better at the end when we get to Lakeland?’
“Lakeland is very realistic in our vision. We’re young, but the girls are playing hard.”
Should the Bobcats be able to make it through the Palm Beach half of Region 3-9A again, they would meet the top 9A team out of Broward. Last year, that was Douglas after a breakthrough 26-3 season under coach Marilyn Rule.
The Eagles return junior guard Abbey Hsu, a versatile playmaker who can contribute at any position from 1-4 at a long 6 feet. District 11-9A rival Deerfield Beach will have something to say in going up against Douglas.
Class 8A locally has belonged to South Broward in recent seasons, but the Bulldogs graduated a bevy of seniors, including last year’s Broward large schools Player of the Year in Shante Walker and guard Natalia Leaks.
Combine that and a similar scenario at Fort Lauderdale with 2016 Player of the Year Keyanna Warthen now at Indiana and TaMiracle Taylor, a first-team All-County selection, a freshman at FIU, and the landscape in 8A is changing.
Whereas South Broward vs. Fort Lauderdale was the regional final matchup to look out for, the path could be paved for Nova and St. Thomas Aquinas to meet there with a spot in the state final four on the line.
The Titans come back with senior guard Erin Gutierrez, a four-year starter, and she is paired in the backcourt with junior GiGi Gonzalez. Nova also has an athletic junior wing in Kayla Massop, who coach Jason Hively calls the team’s most improved player.
St. Thomas Aquinas is looking like a contender out of the top half of Region 4-8A. The Raiders, under new coach Oliver Berens, added a slew of talented transfers this offseason headlined by sophomore point guard Bella LaChance, a second-team All-County selection as a freshman at Cypress Bay, and junior wing Halie Murphy, who came in from Douglas. Palm Beach Lakes, behind coach Cassandra Rahming and junior guard Ra’Shara Simmons, will also compete.
When you go down to Class 7A, it had been Northeast that represented South Florida at states, taking the top spot from Dillard and storied coach Marcia Pinder. The Panthers, after a rebuilding season with a young team, appear to be back on the rise.
Winners of nine state titles overall and five since 2010, Dillard appears to be a force with the combination of Ayana Emmanuel, an Alabama State signee, and Raven White in the paint.
In Class 6A, American Heritage looks to return to Lakeland. Led by reigning small schools Player of the Year Femi Funeus, a 6-foot-1 senior forward committed to Seton Hall, the Patriots look for a return in District 16-6A, which also features Archbishop McCarthy. Last year, Heritage was blown out in a state semifinal against perennial power Jacksonville Ribault.
Class 5A features a Broward and Palm Beach team that could reach the final four. Two local teams made it last season in Cardinal Gibbons and Oxbridge Academy. The ThunderWolves are led by a dynamic backcourt combo of Alexa Zaph, an FAU commit, and Aaliya Stanley. Gibbons has senior guard Deja Antoine returning, but was delivered a tough blow with senior forward Emma Krause, a William & Mary commit, deemed out for the season with a torn ACL.
Grandview Prep won the Class 2A title a year ago and returns Palm Beach small schools Player of the Year Megan Rampersad.
Somerset Prep is a team that reached Class 3A state semifinals last year before falling to eventual champ Tallahassee FAMU.
Feb. 1-3: BCAA Big 8 championships; Feb. 5-10: District tournaments; Feb 15: 9A-5A regional quarterfinals, 4A-1A regional semifinals; Feb. 20: 9A-5A regional semifinals, 4A-1A regional finals; Feb. 23: 9A-5A regional finals; Feb. 26-March 3: State tournament in Lakeland.
Defending State Champs
Class 9A: Boca Raton; Class 8A: Winter Haven; Class 7A: Fort Myers; Class 6A: Jacksonville Ribault; Class 5A: Orlando Jones; Class 4A: Miami Country Day; Class 3A: Tallahassee FAMU; Class 2A: Grandview Prep; Class 1A: Wildwood.