Has the torch passed? To know definitively will require a retrospective view.
FAMU DRS’ girls basketball team hopes at least that the answer is “No,” but it will probably take the better part of two months and perhaps longer for the three-time defending Class 3A state champion Rattlers to be ready for a championship run.
And given the level of competition in its region, FAMU DRS may not be tested until the state semifinals.
So when it all boils down to it, fourth-year Rattlers coach Ericka Cromartie only cares two wins – one on Feb. 27 and another one a day later as FAMU DRS tries to do what only a couple have done.
“You know we’ll have a tough schedule, and that’s on purpose to be prepared for the playoffs,” Cromartie said. “This team is a little younger physically and mentally, so it will take some time. I don’t know at what point in the season when it will all come together and click, but it will.”
No one said winning four consecutive state championships would be easy. Winning three wasn’t.
In the past several years, FAMU DRS has overcome the loss of key seniors – Ja’Nyia McNealy, RayGene Garner, Lakaris Salter, Jazmine Jones, to name a few – with a couple returning starters that took their game to the next level.
That will definitely have to be senior LaKrista Walker this season. Walker could have continued in an assisting point-guard role, but over the summer she found out she’d have to be a big-time scorer as well as a facilitator. Freshman twins Erin and Erica Turral transferred to Lincoln to play their four years of high school.
“That’s why you coach, and you have to coach with what you have,” Cromartie said. “You’re always going to have to make changes and adjustments.
“LaKrista has been doing a phenomenal job with it. She knows her role and that I need her more than any other time. She’s accepted it well. She’s vocal and showing it on the court. She does it all for us. When she goes, we go. She’s embraced it.”
Though the Rattlers are 0-4 to start the season, Cromartie has seen progress from three preseason games into the regular-season games.
Encouragement. Motivation. Small victories, even in the losses. It’s something to be pocketed for future games.
“The intensity and communication is better,” Cromartie said. “By the end of January or early February, all those games we’ve played should have some kind of impact.”
And when it boils down to it, FAMU DRS’ coach isn’t go to waver from the words she’s spoken in the preseason for the previous three years. Those all held true.
The Rattlers will win it all.
“That’s the goal,” Cromartie said, “and I’m going to stand behind them until we get there.”
Raiders’ belief high
Stopped in the Class 6A regional finals the last two seasons by Jacksonville Ribault, Rickards is ready for its next ascent back to the state tournament.
Led by the reigning All-Big Bend Player of the Year, senior guard Tamia Riles, the Raiders have dominated the area last season, but 10th-year Rickards coach Chariya Davis isn’t quite ready to say her team is the best in the city.
“I’m not sure,” said Davis, whose team will be going after its 10th district title in last 10 years. “We’re banged up. Being healthy is my concern for now. Maybe it’s hitting us early and we’ll bounce back. But it has been good in some ways because there are other players getting playing time and getting better.”
Davis has been impressed so far with the all-around play of junior guard Iyanla “Scrap” Woodfaulk, who pairs well with shooting guard Laniyah Lee and Riles to form a trio of dangerous perimeter players.
“Scrap has really stepped it up this year,” Davis said. “She’s been the second person to lean on besides T. She’s really grown from last year.”
While FAMU DRS may see itself in the state finals, Rickards hasn’t had that happy ending to dwell on despite consistent 20-win seasons. The Raiders will be taking it one game at a time until they get there.
That said, a team that played in the regional finals with mostly freshmen and sophomores the last two seasons has now grown into a team with all the traits needed to make a deeper push this year.
“We can really only stop ourselves if we’re healthy and doing what we’re supposed to do with our experience,” Davis said. “We try to get better every game. All we can do is what we do – keep working.”
Florida High back to win it all
Maybe the most surprising run last year occurred with Florida High’s team of young players making a run to the Class 5A state championship.
The Seminoles came out the state runner-up after a 56-44 loss to Orlando Jones.
Florida High’s team that went 26-7 a year ago returns entirely intact, though the Seminoles will have to cope for a little without sophomore point guard Kyndall Thomas, who broke her ankle in June and won’t be back until late December.
“We’re looking to win it all – that’s our thought process and how we’re attacking,” third-year Florida High coach Darryl Marshall said. “Kyndall was a setback, but we’ve got a 2-0 start. We beat Fort Walton Beach by 10 already, which was the 7A runner-up. We’re looking to really take over and win this whole thing. The girls had a great summer and they’re playing with passion and focus.”
The summer AAU season was a chance to keep building on what had just occurred.
Freshman Jordan Rosier and eighth-grader Tonie Morgan worked to become pure scorers, expanding their game past more than just a jump shot. Post players Sarah McCracken – one of four seniors this year – and junior Miniya Adu worked to take their game away from the basket before to become more versatile in hitting mid-range shots and better their dribbling skills.
Marshall has even seen his role players take their next steps to secure bigger minutes and become better-contributing facets when on the floor.
“You can’t teach experience, and I saw growth,” Marshall said. “They see now they can play at a high level. During that Jones game, they saw we didn’t get beat. They didn’t out-scheme us, they out-worked us, scoring off our turnovers. We must have watched that film 3-4 times. We’ve worked a lot on our transition defense and making more hustle plays.”
Look out for . . .
- Lincoln will be going after its fourth straight district title and is coming off a 17-9 season that saw the Trojans reach the 8A regional finals. With the addition of twins Erica and Erin Turral and 6-3 freshman volleyball standout Khori Louis, the Trojans have big-time complements to go along with junior Kayley Farmer and a strong group of seniors – Michigan signee Ariel Young, Jyn’daya Richards and Courtney Mack.
- NFC junior Caylan Jones has already been putting up regular 30-point nights one year after averaging 26 points per game, while Maclay junior Marie Shapley has become the Marauders’ leading scorer, averaging double figures.
- Leon senior Jala Williams, a West Alabama signee who averaged 17.5 points per game last season, has taken her scoring average up through the first couple games this season. Williams and senior Amaya Bryant provide one of the most dangerous and tough to guard backcourts around.
- Chiles junior Aly Freeland, off a dynamite volleyball season after return from a broken leg that saw her miss the last basketball season, is averaging 7.3 points per game after a 20-point night against Maclay. Timberwolves freshman point guard Samantha Wilson (8.7 ppg) is already filling a big role created by the graduation of three senior starters.
- Aucilla Christian senior Camryn Grant, a Lee University signee, should again dominate the double-double category. The reigning All-Big Bend Defensive Player of the Year averaged 18 points and 15 rebounds per game while leading the Warriors to the Class 2A state tournament last year.