By Kyle LoJacono
Question marks surrounded the Wiregrass Ranch girls basketball team entering the 2010-11 season.
The Bulls lost five seniors, including four of their top five scorers from a year ago. The departures accounted for 61 percent of the Wiregrass Ranch points.
To add to the uncertainty, the squad lost coach Greg Finkel. The only coach in program history resigned following a Florida High School Athletic Association investigation that found 10 violations within the program centering on the recruitment of guard Briahanna Jackson.
The squad finished with a 14-12 record and missed the playoffs for the first time in three seasons.
In stepped a new leader for the sixth-year program — John Gant.
Gant was a shooting guard in high school for a state champion team in Georgia. He also coached high school and AAU ball for about 10 years.
“My goals were to gel as a team,” Gant said. “Any time you have a new coach it’s a different system. They have to learn new defenses and offenses. Not that one is better than the other, but it’s different, so that throws the program into psychological disarray. The goal was to try and make the transition as smooth as possible.”
There have been few rough patches this year, as Wiregrass Ranch has posted a 15-6 record. The Bulls are also 4-2 in Class 7A-District 9 play, losing only to Steinbrenner.
“We’ve exceeded my expectations,” Gant said. “We were picked by a lot of folks not to do very well at all probably because of the changes. We lost a lot from a senior-laden team from last year. Yet I set our goals really high for the girls so they can develop. I’ve never said to them we’re not going to be good. We’re in pursuit of excellence, and we have a lot to live up to because they’ve been very successful in the past.”
Sophomore center Logan Seoane said Gant’s coaching is different from Finkel’s, but just as effective.
“He’s brought in a lot of different drills, which is good to have a different way of doing things,” said Seoane, who averages 7.4 points and 6.9 rebounds per game. “They’re both great coaches, so we’ve been lucky.”
Gant said the key to the turnaround this year has been the play and leadership of Kelly McCaffrey. The senior guard, who is closing in on 1,500 points for her career, is posting 19.2 points, 8.9 rebounds, four assists and four steals per game.
“She’s the heart and soul of this team,” Gant said. “The good thing is we don’t have to have her score 25 points a night for us to win. It’s letting her do other things, and right now she’s leading our district in rebounding. That’s really key for her development as a player. She’s also a leader on and off the court.”
McCaffrey played forward for most of last year, but an influx of younger players allowed her to move to her more natural position. One of those newcomers is freshman Amanda Melosky, who is averaging 10.4 points, 6.7 rebounds and a team-high four steals in her first year in high school.
“Amanda has really been a big help for us this year,” McCaffrey said. “We’re really glad she came in. She’s a really strong player. I don’t know where we’d be without her.”
Melosky wasn’t intimidated with the prospects of playing in high school as a freshman.
“I really wasn’t that nervous,” Melosky said. “Being a freshman I wanted to see how I was going to fit in. I guess I’ve been doing OK, and I’m surprised to be playing as much as I am.”
Melosky, Seoane and junior forward Kristin Ibison have given Wiregrass Ranch a bigger advantage down low than in past years. The Bulls are pulling down 39.3 rebounds per game this year, more than any other 7A-9 squad.
“They have really given us an inside presence,” Gant said. “That frees Kelly up to shoot and that makes us a lot better. Their development has been key. Logan has really improved. I had a preseason chat with her about what she can mean for this team and she’s done it. We’re being successful because of those girls who have committed to doing their job.”
Gant said he is very pleased with the squad’s performance, but knows the players will have to continue to improve if they are to make it back to the postseason.
“It’s a tough district with Steinbrenner and Freedom,” Gant said. “To play with those teams and beat those teams we have to play our very best. We can’t turn the ball over. Every possession counts. … If we do that we can play with them.”
The 7A-9 tournament is at Steinbrenner Jan. 31-Feb. 3. The championship is on Friday, Feb. 3 at 7:30 p.m. Wiregrass Ranch is currently in second place in the district.
The Bulls played at Sunlake on Jan. 16, but results were not available by press time. Wiregrass Ranch travels to district rival Freedom on Wednesday, Jan. 18 at 8 p.m.
–All stats as recorded to Maxpreps.com by coaches.