By Kyle LoJacono
Despite having two new starters and a new coach, the Land O’ Lakes High girls basketball team brought home the Class 4A-District 8 championship with a 58-53 win against Citrus High Feb. 5.
The Gators (23-2) were led by sophomore Simone Brown, a Wesley Chapel High transfer, who poured in 27 points including 15 in the fourth quarter. Senior guard Julia Della Penna added 14 to the scoreboard, nearly double her season average.
“It’s been a learning experience for us all,” said Land O’ Lakes first-year coach Laurie Fitzpatrick. “I had to learn what the girls did well and how to make all the pieces fit together. We had some injuries early, which didn’t help that, but by the end we were really clicking and I think that showed.”
Fitzpatrick said most of her girls were sick during the tournament.
“Simone had to run to the trashcan during timeouts because she was getting sick,” Fitzpatrick said. “They weren’t going to let that stop them.”
The Gators took down Wiregrass Ranch 55-49 in the semifinals. Senior point guard Shanel Sweet, a Gaither High transfer, had 17 points in the contest and sunk her last six free throws in the closing minutes to keep her squad ahead.
“It was two games that came down to the very end,” Fitzpatrick said. “I was nervous. I was biting my nails in both games. The girls stepped up big time on a big stage.”
Land O’ Lakes will now host Mitchell High at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 10.
Wildcats get first district title
The Academy at the Lakes girls basketball team has come a long way from the squad that finished 0-15 last year
Karim Nohra was brought in to coach the Wildcats and installed a pressure defense that helped them defeat Keswick Christian 42-31 in the 1A-9 title game Feb. 5. The academy caused 25 turnovers in the contest.
Marjorie Rivera, an eighth grader, led the academy in scoring with 16 points while adding six assists.
In the semis, the Wildcats defeated one of Nohra’s former squads Cambridge Christian 54-32 thanks in large part to their defense, which held the Lancers to just one field goal in the first quarter.
The academy will next host Sarasota Christian at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 10.