Blogumn: Who's going to state?

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Wed. February 16, 2011 | John C. Cotey | Email

Some thoughts and stuff from the world of girls basketball:

1. Welcome.

I'll say it -- Lakewood's Tianah Alvarado arrived last night.

The 6-foot sophomore has been hyped for years (going back to middle school), and she dropped 22 on Jefferson after scoring 31 in the opening round of the playoffs.

She's still raw, and there's lots of work to be done, but once she improves her shot, she's going to be a beast. With Lakewood graduating its  backcourt, I can see her as a pretty unstoppable guard if coach Necole Tunsil chooses. Or a slashing forward. Or a post-up player. She can play anywhere.

One of the more impressive aspects of her performance Tuesday night was her ability to score points and play defense against Jefferson's talented Laurie' Beaty, who had 16 points but wasn't a factor down the stretch.

But most impressive -- Alvarado just looked like she was ready. She was aggressive on offense, did not hesitate to take her shot and looked the part of a go-to player.

When Jefferson took the lead in the first quarter, she buried a 3-pointer. When the Dragons opened up a 17-11 lead, she put back her own miss and then stole the ball and converted a lay-in to tie the game. When Jefferson responded with six straight points, she hit another 3-pointer with 40 seconds left in the first half to stem a potential Dragon.

She had lots of help -- senior guards Kayla Roberts and Taye'lor Trotter were clutch down the stretch -- but her performance heralded her ascension to Tamara Taylor's throne, now that Boca Ciega is out of the playoffs.

2. It's a haul, but...

Best game Saturday night? Indian Rocks Christian at Naples Community School.

The Golden Eagles (28-3) have a fantastic four -- Kristen Scholl, Tori Trador, Rachel Burnett and Jess Logemann all average double figures -- and are built to succeed in games like this. They have excellent 3-point shooters (shooting more than 20 a game and making 34 percent of them), they have solid inside play (Scholl, Burnett and Logemann all average more than 6 rebounds a game) and Logemann is averaging 9.5 assists a game.

Before you dismiss them as a 2A team playing 2A competition, consider: IRC beat Northeast, Gibbs, Seminole, Plant, Gulf, Dunnellon, St. Petersburg Catholic and Academy of the Holy Names.

Their three losses: to Clearwater by 5, Boca Ciega by 7 and 11 to a Gilmour Academy team that is 18-1 and ranked No. 16 in Ohio.

Not sure if any of that matters against a very good Community School team led by Miami signee Michelle Woods. The Seahawks have made the past two state title games, winning in 2009, and have won their last seven playoff games against Pinellas County opposition, including a 60-44 win over IRC last year. In those seven wins, everyone has been a double-digit win.

But this year's version of Golden Eagles will be the best local team the Seahawks have seen in that span.

3. Happy meals!

When John and Amber Henson, a pair of McDonald's All-Americans-to-be, transferred into Sickles three years ago, I expected one of the Gryphon teams to get to the state final. But John fell short (and Sickles went the year after he graduated), and it looked like Amber would follow suit. Until Tuesday night, when she led the Gryphons to their second straight region final.

Sickles won't have to get past Bogie; the Pirates dominated them last year.

But Clearwater is beatable, if Henson takes over the game. But only if. Which brings me to...

4. Mad scientist

Tom Shaneyfelt. He's a genius. In my opinion, the best girls basketball coach in Tampa Bay history. He doesn't have a star on this year's Clearwater team, and he's back in the region final, where he has an 8-2 career record. He has a knack for exploiting other team's weaknesses and neutralizing their strengths, so I can't wait to see what he comes up with to stop Henson. Because he'll have something.

5. Xs and Oh My Goodness

Speaking of great coaches, Saturday night, three of the best girls basketball coaches Tampa Bay has ever known -- ever! -- will lead their teams in bids for a state semifinal berth.

Shaneyfelt is one win from taking the Torndoes to their 10th final four; he has been coach for eight of those.

Nancy Kroll, who just wins wins wins, has her Tampa Catholic Crusaders peaking at the right time as the Crusaders try to become the area's first repeat state champion since Boca Ciega in 1995-96. Remember, this is a team that lost their key players to graduation and weren't supposed to be here, not too mention they started 3-4.

And how about Karim Nohra? The guy amazes me every season, because he makes something out of nothing. And I mean that in the most literal sense -- he took over an Academy at the Lakes team that was 0-15 last year, and he's in the region championship game for the seventh time (with his fourth team).

6. True...errr, Newblood.

Riverview had only been to the playoffs twice and won a postseason game just once, but the Sharks will play for a spot in the Class 5A semifinals opposite the Clearwater-Sickles winner. They have to beat mighty Winter Haven, though, a tough challenge any year. For coach Lelani Gordon, who earlier this season got her 400th career win, it will be her third trip within a game of state; she took Hillsborough to the region final in 1986 and '94.

Land O'Lakes coach Laurie Tyszko was one of only three applicants for the job when Bob Godsey left after one season. Lucky her, landing a team that is making school history. The Class 4A Gators have been to the postseason 11 previous times under four different coaches. They have never won more than one playoff game. Until now.

And Class A Seffner Christian may be primed for a breakthrough, having advanced to the second round each of the past four seasons. But only one time before, in 2008, have they managed to get to the region final. The Crusaders have lost seven times, but only once to a Class A team, and they avenged that loss twice, including last Tuesday night when they beat Bradenton Christian.

Don't discount Seffner Christian. Tesha Hanson, a star at Class 5A Wharton last year, averaged over 24 points this season and is scoring 27.5 in the playoffs.

7. How Sweet it is

Land O'Lakes' Shanel Sweet, arguably the Player of the Year on the North Suncoast, had 21 points in the fourth quarter of last night's win over Gulf.

A thought: I know there are countless variables to consider, but what if Tampa Catholic's leading scorer Megan Keough and Freedom's leading scorer Kaitlynn Pacholke hadn't transferred from Land O'Lakes two years ago.

Just sayin'.

8. Long time coming?

if Lakewood makes it to the state semifinals, it will be the Spartans first trip back since 1989 when coach Necole Tunsil was a player who happened to score 44 points and grab 21 rebounds in a state championship victory.

9. Scouting Saturday

Class A: Seffner Christian needs to be wary of Orlando Christian Prep's Hope Pawlowski, who scored 27 in an overtime win over Agape Tuesday night and has led the team in scoring the past two seasons.

Academy at the Lakes needs to be wary of Trinity Christian star and Ole Miss signee Danielle McCray, a 6-1 guard was the small school Player of the Year last year for the Palm Beach Post. Her little sister, Alicia, ain't so bad either.

Class 2A: IRC, watch out for Michelle Woods, a Miami signee and the Class 2A Player of the Year two seasons ago as a sophomore. She scored 24 Tuesday in a win over Northside Christian; her dad Mitch is the coach.

Class 3A: Bradenton Southeast doesn't have a player averaging in double figures, but PG Mariah Dowdell is working her way there. She's averaging 9.4 on the season with 5 assists and 4 steals, but over her last seven games is scoring over 12 a game, including 16 Tuesday night.

Class 4A: Land O'Lakes will need to crash the board -- Leesburg's FAMU signee Jaleesa Blue is averaging almost 19 rebounds a game in the postseason after averaging 11 (and 11 points) during the season.

Lakewood is fortunate to have quick defenders, and they'll need 'em all -- Barron Collier has seven players averaging five points or better, led by Harvard-bound Christine Mansour, averaging 23 points the past three games.

Class 5A: Clearwater needs to stop Amber Henson. Guard Bre Crum is a problem, but the Tornadoes have good enough guards to solve her. They don't have anyone 6-foot-4.

As for Sickles, they need to worry about senior Emma Loucks, who has hit some big shots this season, though sophomore Tyra Bolden has been playing well of late and could be the antidote to Henson.

And Riverview must contend with Winter Haven senior guard Erica Lanier, who has a 46-point game this season and had 15 second-half points in a win Tuesday night.

10. Picking them

I think Seffner Christian gets by once-great Orlando Christian Prep, but it's the end of the road for AATL despite miracle turnaround.

I think Indian Rocks Christian stuns Community School something like 55-54, with a crazy ending.

I'm liking Tampa Catholic all day long.

I'm feeling Lakewood, but not Land O'Lakes.

Winter Haven just has too much for Riverview, and they are 15-0 against Tampa Bay in the postseason, the last nine of those by 20-plus points or more.

And in the big local showdown, I'm going with Clearwater, because, well, it's Clearwater.

Times preps columnist John C. Cotey can be reached here: jccotey@sptimes.com.

Or here: twitter.com/JohnnyHometeam

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