By Jeff Odom
The Wiregrass Ranch girls basketball team is no stranger to adversity.
Less than a year after the program was hit with major sanctions from the Florida High School Athletic Association (FHSAA) due to the use of an ineligible player, coach John Gant led the Bulls (5-0) to 20 wins.
“I was extremely pleased,” Gant said of his first year at the helm. “One of my first goals was to say, ‘Hey, forget about whatever happened good or bad in the past. This is a new day, a new culture, and the girls bought into to it. It made it so much easier, because they enabled it, bought in and did the work.”
Wiregrass Ranch was unable to make the postseason in the highly competitive Class 7A-District 9, falling to the eventual runner-up Freedom in the semifinals.
Now, in his second season with the squad, Gant is building around a young roster to compete with the Patriots, along with the 2011-12 district champion Steinbrenner.
“We’ve got great athletes, we just need to get them out and teach them the principles of running the fast break,” Gant said. “Freedom is loaded, Steinbrenner is loaded, and we’re in a district that is one of the best in the state, as far as I’m concerned. We’re playing to hold our own and use our athletes to get prepared. I certainly relish the chance to play them and see what we’re made of. … We’re going into the game to win it.”
The Bulls lost 1,500-point scorer Kelly McCaffrey (19.2 points, 8.9 rebounds last season) to graduation, but do return a strong core with seniors Alex Diepholz and Kristin Ibison, junior Logan Seoane and sophomore forward Amanda Melosky.
Even though she’s only in her second year, Melosky (16 points and 14.7 rebounds) has impressed many of her teammates and Gant with her maturity and leadership. She said taking the roll left vacant by McCaffrey and other seniors was something she wanted to spread around to everyone.
“With carrying the team, pretty much everyone’s a captain,” said Melosky, who averaged 10.7 points and 7.1 rebounds last season. “I want to lead the team and do everything I can to win, and as a sophomore I have three more years to do this, and it’s a great feeling.”
One of the main focuses Gant is trying to instill in his team is man-to-man defense to slow down and wear out opposing offenses.
“We’re going to try and get after it every time and play hard defense,” Ibison said. “I’m really excited to play Freedom and Steinbrenner. I think we’ve been getting better every time. It’s always close (against them), and I think the only fault was the fouls.”
Gant said his players have bought into his philosophy and hopes that it will turn into more success down the road.
“I love teams that say they’re in a rebuilding year,” Gant said. “If you’re smart and doing it the right way, you’re rebuilding every year. From a district perspective, it’s tough here, very competitive, and I’m happy about it because it makes our team better.”
The Bulls host Steinbrenner Nov. 4 at 6 p.m.
—All stats as recorded to Maxpreps.com by coaches