By Kyle LoJacono
With 5:56 remaining in the first quarter, Land O’ Lakes High senior point guard Shanel Sweet stole the ball, drove to the basket and sunk an uncontested layup with her right hand.
Those points helped Gators (16-3) defeat Pasco High 65-27 Jan. 13, but those specific two points meant more than just their place on the scoreboard to Sweet. They moved her past the 1,000-point mark for her high school career.
“As soon as I got the steal, I knew that I’d get it,” Sweet said. “I was just all emotions.”
Sweet had a chance to reach 1,000 points earlier in the quarter when she got two foul shots. She missed the first, but hit the second.
“I talked to my mom before and said watch it be some free throws that I have to make to get 1,000,” Sweet said. “I didn’t want it to be free throws, but I missed the first and thought, I have another chance.”
She finished the game with 21 points, three steals and three assists. She sits at 303 points with three regular season games to go.
Sweet’s journey toward 1,000 started as a freshman at Gaither High, where she scored 65 points. She came back in her sophomore year and scored a career best 354 points, followed by 297 as a junior. Then her family came north of the Hillsborough County line into Land O’ Lakes.
“Playing at Gaither was fun, but it was also hard because we had three different coaches when I was there,” Sweet said. “We had some good players, but we were never able to bring things together.”
To make the regional tournament, a team needs to reach the finals of its district tournament. Jackie Eisenhauer coached Sweet as a freshman, where the Cowboys went 6-14. Andy Alwood led Gaither to a 10-13 season in 2008-09 and J.D. Barreda was her coach last year when the squad went 12-12.
Winning has come easier for Sweet in Land O’ Lakes, which has already clinched a winning season despite having to adjust to her fourth coach in as many years.
“I was hoping for a winning season because I’ve never had one,” Sweet said. “Now we’re going for districts and I think we have what it takes to go far in regionals. Coach has really done a great job with the team.”
Laurie Fitzpatrick became the Gators coach this year and knew the squad would be good when she saw Sweet in her first practice.
“She was passing the ball from behind her back and doing things you don’t expect from a high school player,” Fitzpatrick said. “She’s had some injuries that have made it harder for her to score, but she’s fought through them all. She has a lot of heart and goes for rebounds like a post player. You can see she loves the game.”
Sweet has never been on a team that won a game in a district tournament, but thinks that will change this year
“We’re ready for the districts,” Sweet said. “I know we have what it takes to be district champs.”
-All stats as recorded to Maxpreps.com by coaches.