CLEARWATER — For Clearwater coach Tom Shaneyfelt, the looming presence of a 600th victory had been as much a curse as a promise.
Shaneyfelt, who is in his 26th season of coaching and 18th at Clearwater, started the season with 580 victories. As the season progressed, the buzz among his friends and supporters was steadily rising toward a roar.
It was a discomforting presence, that magic number, and no one knew more than Shaneyfelt the pressures he and his Tornadoes faced.
But while Shaneyfelt felt confident his team was talented enough, he also knew his players were young and inexperienced with just three seniors. The coach was particularly concerned about what effect chasing the milestone might have on his team with three tough games this week to close out the regular season, including Monday’s game against St. Petersburg.
In the second quarter, Clearwater came alive, erasing a small deficit to take control with a 63-59 victory over the Green Devils as Shaneyfelt joined the 600-win club.
It is an exclusive club, considering Shaneyfelt is the only one in it among girls basketball coaches.
In 2007, he became the first girls basketball coach in the area to win 500 games in his career.
“Some people around school became aware of it and knew I had a shot at it,” Shaneyfelt said. “But I was worried about it because we had three tough games this week. Luckily, the kids didn’t know much about it and that took some pressure off them.”
Shaneyfelt began his varsity coaching career in 1985 at Osceola, where he had four 20-win seasons and finished as district runnerup four times. In 1993, he came to Clearwater, where he has led the program to district titles in 15 of the past 17 seasons and guided the Tornadoes to the state tournament eight times.
“I’d be lying if I said the number doesn’t mean anything to me,” Shaneyfelt said. “It says a lot about the program and all the people who have been involved in getting it. I’ve just tried to do the best I can with what I have each year.”
Emma Loucks scored a team-high 25 for the Tornadoes (20-2).