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LAKELAND — Since the second she started coaching at Lakewood, Necole Tunsil hasn’t been shy about motivating her team by regaling them with stories about the accomplishments of past Spartan greats.
You know, like the school’s only Parade All-American. I think her name was Necole Tunsil.
Oh, and that great state championship team in 1989, the only one in school history, with that one girl who averaged a triple double that season.
What was her name again?
Oh, yeah. Necole Tunsil.
And one time, in a state championship game, a Spartan scored 44 points and had 21 rebounds.
Her name? You know it.
“Every day,” said senior guard Kayla Roberts. “She tells us every day.”
• • •
In many ways, winning Saturday as a coach was more gratifying than winning as a player.
Then, she tells you, “I was the superstar. I was the one you had to stop.”
Now she has to find ways to stop others.
Friday night in their team meeting, Tunsil turned to her players for that. They had watched Pensacola beat Titusville, so she asked:
“What do we need to do to win?”
Roberts, senior Taye’lor Trotter and her sister, sophomore Tianah Alvarado, suggested matchups, pitched a zone defense, helped lay out a plan.
“They made my job easy,” Tunsil said.
Some would say there is nothing easy about Necole Tunsil.
She is a coach who cares, deeply. She can be charming and abrasive, reasonable and prickly. She rubs quite a few people the wrong way.
She’s perfectly fine with that.
While others cringe, her girls love that she grabs a microphone after a conference championship win to introduce her players.
They love that if her team needs hotel rooms the night before a 10 a.m. state semifinal and you suggest — like she says the county did, telling her to gather her troops and drive through morning traffic the day of the game when other teams are afforded better — she will fight and there will be rooms.
She has a boulder on her shoulder.
Maybe it’s bigger than it should be. Maybe it’s just the right size.
Maybe it will be less noticeable now that she has a gold medal around her neck and has done what everyone else has had trouble doing.
Since Boca Ciega won back-to-back crowns in 1995-96, Pinellas County had been unable to win another. The Pirates have been back four times. Clearwater is 0-for-7 in that span, including 0-for-4 in championship games. St. Petersburg Catholic has lost two title games, Keswick Christian one final and two semis, and Largo and Northside Christian played in semifinals.
In all, that’s six teams, 15 years and 18 appearances at state with zero titles.
That skid ended Saturday.
• • •
The postgame news conference started with Tunsil saying “I’m speechless” and ended a million words later.
Somewhere in there, she reminded everyone she’s still a superstar, she could beat everyone up on stage with her, and yes, Alvarado is going to be the next great Lakewood player but there will never be another Necole Tunsil.
Which is good, because there’s barely enough room in the world for the one we have.
She was being cheeky and loving every minute of it.
This season, when her players got tired, or wouldn’t listen, she’d merely tell them “Fine. I already got mine.”
Tunsil might show them a ring. Point to a banner hanging in the gym. Threaten to suit up.
So it was with great pleasure that seconds after having the state Class 4A state championship trophy placed in their hands, the
Spartans turned to their coach with a message Tunsil has been waiting to hear since taking the job seven years ago.
“We got ours.”