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Column: Tampa Catholic settling in for long run

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Fri. February 25, 2011 | John C. Cotey | Email

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LAKELAND — Tampa Catholic won another state basketball championship Thursday night, and also, in a bonus, the first-ever girls high school Greco-Roman wrestling championship.

The pin-fall came somewhere early in the fourth quarter on a Meghan Keough 3-pointer that had all the oomph of a suplex.

It was a pretty moment in an otherwise rough-and-tumble, up-and-down contest, with a few headlocks and bear-hugs and flailing bodies along the way.

Oh, and of course, a gold medal.

Always the gold medal.

Like last year, the Crusaders didn’t even need to shoot 30 percent to win a state title, because they do all the other things so well, and because they are tough, and because they run you over.

They play hard.

Then they play harder.

“We wear the other team down,” said coach Nancy Kroll, and it took all of a quarter to do so.

After the Eagles went ahead 15-5, Tampa Catholic turned up the pressure, and for the next 14 minutes, right through the second quarter and into the third, North Broward Prep didn’t make a basket.

And it never made a final run at the Crusaders.

Kroll told her charges before the game this was a once in a lifetime chance, but for many of the Crusaders, it’s now twice in a lifetime.

They have done what no other team since Boca Ciega in 1996 has, and what no team has ever done in Hillsborough County.

Now, the question becomes will there be a thrice in a lifetime opportunity for the Crusaders next season?

“Oh, sure, why not?” said junior Kai Jones, ticking off all the players coming back.

“Is it three starters, or four?”

It’s four: Jones, Micah Kroll, Brittany Betts and Danielle Battle.

Unfortunately for the Crusaders, Keough isn’t one them.

The best guard, the best forward and the best center on the Lakeland Center floor Thursday, Keough was awesome in the 48-37 win over North Broward Prep.

She fiercely drove to the basket at will, whirling and twirling her way to 30 points, while everyone not named Meghan Keough combined to make 4 of 27 shots.

Despite being covered by Eagles defensive stopper Symone Bullard, she was a force and picked up MVP honors, voted on by the chanting crowd when she scored the first six points of the fourth quarter to finish off the challengers.

The game was over.

But the Tampa Catholic dynasty? Probably not.

Last year, we watched seniors Colette Eule and Sarah Brennan walk off the court for the last time, as champions, and never thought the Crusaders would be back so soon.

This year, watching Keough sling her gym bag over her shoulders, we know better.

“I think we can definitely win a third,” Battle said. “I think we’ll be good. We’ll have to work harder, though.”

The target is now bigger. And the odds, dare I say, longer.

But Kroll is now 181-26 as a head coach, with two state titles. Her teams (two at Freedom and five at Tampa Catholic) have lost more than four games in a season just twice.

So yeah, the question this morning becomes will there be a thrice in a lifetime opportunity for the Crusaders next season?

And the answer is simple: don’t bet against it.

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