Academy falls short in state final

A sluggish start was too much for the Academy at the Lakes girls basketball team to overcome in the Class 2A state championship, as it fell to Tallahassee FAMU Developmental Research School 55-40 at The Lakeland Center on Feb. 17.

The Baby Rattlers’ full-court pressure proved to be problematic for the Academy early on, as the Wildcats faced a 20-6 deficit after the first quarter.

The Academy at the Lakes girls basketball team finished runner-up in the FHSAA (Florida High School Athletic Association) Class 2A Finals, losing 55-40 to Tallahassee Florida Agricultural & University University (FAMU) Developmental Research School. (Kevin Weiss/Staff Photos)

The Academy at the Lakes girls basketball team finished runner-up in the FHSAA (Florida High School Athletic Association) Class 2A Finals, losing 55-40 to Tallahassee Florida Agricultural & University University (FAMU) Developmental Research School.
(Kevin Weiss/Staff Photos)

“In the first (quarter), we were really out of our element. That’s not how we play,” said Wildcats coach Karim Nohra, whose team committed 13 turnovers in the first quarter. “Once we settled in, we broke the press and got layups, even though we missed a few layups.

“Had we come out in the first quarter like we did the third and fourth, it would’ve been a totally different game,” Nohra said.

The Wildcats double-teamed FAMU’s top player, senior Jazmine Jones, the entire game, but it wasn’t enough to stop her from collecting a double-double (18 points, 11 rebounds).

“Jazmine Jones makes all the difference in the world,” Nohra said. “You take any 2A team that was here and you put Jazmine on that team, that team wins state. She is the difference-maker.”

Jones, a University of Louisville basketball commit, was also a pest on the defensive end, collecting seven steals.

“(Coach Nohra) told us not to throw the ball towards Jazmine Jones, and some of the mistakes were because we did throw the ball towards her, and because she’s (lengthier) than all of us,” said Wildcats junior forward Imani Thomas. “She got the ball and that (led to) quick fast breaks for them.”

Making matters more difficult for the Wildcats was losing Thomas (7 points, 13 rebounds) for most of the second quarter after she sustained a blow to the stomach.

“You’re talking about Imani and (sophomore) Audra (Leipold) being the leaders of the squad in terms of scoring and people relying on them, so when one goes out, it works on the psyche a little bit,” Nohra explained.

“It was definitely tough,” said Leipold, who led the Wildcats in scoring with 20 points. “She’s like my go-to girl, and I’m her go-to girl. “But, it was good to learn the leadership in a way and how to take (the team) in control.”

The Academy (26-4) has reached the state tournament five consecutive years, only to fall short of a title, losing to FAMU four times during that span.

“It’s a nice squad,” Nohra said about FAMU, which has won four state titles since 2012. “Not many 2A teams have beaten them. Do they deserve it? Absolutely.”

Leipold added that FAMU’s “athleticism and the way they run the floor” has been the challenge in facing them in recent years.

While the Academy will lose seniors Janise Cassanello and Lulu Santiago, they’ll return their top four scorers in Leipold, Thomas, Loren Wells and Nini Chester.

“It’s very exciting,” Nohra said about next year’s prospects. “My goal is always to get to state. I tell my kids, ‘We’re going to win our district. We’re going to be one of the best teams in our county, and I want to get to state.’”

With FAMU’s top player graduating, Thomas is confident the Wildcats will have a better showing next season.

“I think it’s going to be a great experience, and next time, we’ll win the whole thing,” Thomas said.

In preparation for next season, Leipold plans to work on “pretty much everything” to take her skills to the next level.

“I need to get more shots up, so I can get prepared for the depth perception at (The Lakeland Center). And, definitely finishing, creating off the dribble more, creating space,” she said.

Published February 24, 2016

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