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Thu. December 9, 2010 | Bob Putnam | Email

Barons show forward progress

ST. PETERSBURG — They have been all over the court and everywhere in the stat sheet, showing up under their own names and in everyone else’s line, as well.

St. Petersburg Catholic’s starters have been playing at an elevated level, helping the Barons to a 6-1 start and keeping hope alive that they can extend their school-record playoff streak to 14 seasons.

And they’re doing it without Jerica Coley.

Coley, the St. Petersburg Times’ All-County and All-Suncoast Player of the Year the past two seasons, graduated. She was the team’s savior, night in, night out.

Also missing are six other seniors from last year’s team. This season’s squad has just three players with varsity experience.

The supporting players had been the beneficiaries of the county’s best player, the supporting cast in Coley’s high-scoring games that helped SPC extend its playoff streak.

Now they have to fend for themselves with Coley playing at Florida International.

But the Barons are having a grand time standing up for themselves.

“We all knew we had to step up,” guard Brittney Dunbar said. “Jerica was a great player and will be missed. We can’t rely on one person anymore. We all have to come through and score. We’ve had to spread things out and be more balanced.”

Everyone is contributing to SPC’s success. Three of the Barons’ top four players have led the team in scoring in at least one game.

In the season opener against Tenoroc, Michelle Halapio had a team-high 18 points.

Against Tampa Catholic in a key district game, Annie Artise came through with 27.

Artise fell hard on the court in that game and missed this week with a concussion.

No problem. SPC made up for her loss as Dunbar scored a career-high 29 and had 13 steals in a victory over Academy of the Holy Names on Tuesday.

Nikki Parker, who came back from a knee injury last year, also has been a solid scorer.

“I knew we had the talent, and I knew these four would have to carry us,” coach Nick Vandewalle said. “I thought we might struggle early and get better as the season went on.

“But this team has already exceeded those expectations.”

The only loss in the first seven games came by two points to Riverview.

Now comes a tough stretch of games starting tonight, with an opening-round matchup against Boca Ciega in the Indian Rocks Christian Invitational.  

“I think the biggest surprise for us is how well we’ve played together so quickly,” Parker said. “We’re trying to stay focused and make sure we can keep our playoff streak going at end of the year.”

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