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The top two scorers from last year graduated, and the roster is filled with underclassmen. Yet Tom Shaneyfelt still has Clearwater near the top of the county girls basketball standings.
Most games have been a 32-minute scrape for survival, but the Tornadoes have made a steady climb with a 17-2 record and two tournament titles already this season.
They also are on their way to wrapping up the top seed in the Class 5A, District 11 tournament and advancing to the Pinellas County Athletic Conference championship game as the north county representative.
“I still thought we could be a pretty good team, but this is more than I would have expected,” Shaneyfelt said. “We lost a lot from last year’s team, but we’ve got some players who have worked real hard and become consistent hitting their shots.”
Clearwater entered the season trying to compensate for the graduated Lashe and Latrel Kirkland, the top scorers from last year.
The points have come primarily from guard Emma Loucks (14.3 a game), younger sister of former Tornadoes star and current FSU men’s player Luke Loucks. But others have contributed. Tyra Bolden is averaging double figures (10.5) in scoring and Javon McTier has hit clutch shots.
“I think our start surprised a lot of other people but not the players on this team,” Loucks said. “Before the season started, Coach Shaneyfelt told me that I was one of the few seniors on the team and I would have to step up as a leader and a scorer.”
The Tornadoes’ losses came against Lakewood (13-3) and Sarasota Riverview (15-3).
Clearwater has a chance to avenge those with a brutal schedule the final week of the regular season. On Jan. 24, the Tornadoes play St. Petersburg, followed by rematches against the Spartans on Jan. 28 and the Rams on Jan. 29.
“I told the team they have a great opportunity, not only to win a district and conference title, but also beat the teams we’ve lost to already this season,” Shaneyfelt said. “It’s something that doesn’t happen that often.”
District titles and conference game appearances are nice, but Clearwater knows its season will hinge on how well it plays in regionals, particularly against Boca Ciega, which has knocked it from the playoffs the past three years.
“There’s a chance we’ll probably run into Boca Ciega again,” Shaneyfelt said. “Hopefully we can play better if we happen to get to that point again.”