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Tue. January 15, 2013 | Joel Anderson

Crusaders keep looking for ways to be challenged

SEFFNER — The girls split into two groups, scampered to each baseline and Seffner Christian coach Greg Fawbush ambled over to the scorer’s table to set the clock at 3:00.

“Let’s make our goal 70 points,” Fawbush said as the players took their spots. “No, how about 90?”

This wasn’t really a question.

What followed was a nonstop drill, from basket to basket, that required the players to score 90 points in 90 seconds. Failure would have only meant more running for the Crusaders; they narrowly met their goal by scoring 92.

“My objective is that by the time they get to a game,” Fawbush said later, “they’re glad.”

That’s because their practices often pose more of a challenge, requiring the sort of exertion and concentration that is rarely necessary during games.

Seffner Christian has won 18 of 20 games this season, holding opponents to eight or fewer points in five games. Those scores: 68-8, 74-5, 67-7, 62-2, 65-5.

Subtract three games from their schedule, including their only two defeats, at the prestigious Queen of Palms tournament in Fort Myers, and the Crusaders have defeated opponents by an average of 68-24.

They kept up their dominant ways in a surprisingly easy 63-45 win Saturday over previously unbeaten Academy at the Lakes, a game billed as a showdown between two of the area’s top private school powers.

“We were really excited to have some competition,” said Tesha Hanson, the Crusaders’ leading scorer and top college recruit.

Seffner Christian entered the season as one of the county’s top state tournament contenders, returning everyone from a team that finished 24-5 and advanced to the Class 3A region final last year.

Then the Crusaders benefited from the return of another starter, one season removed: Hanson, who returned to the school after spending the previous year at Riverview.

Hanson averaged 19 points, 5.5 rebounds and 3.9 steals for the Sharks as a junior. The season before she averaged nearly a double double (24.7 ppg, 9.7 rpg, 5.7 steals) for Seffner Christian.

With the 5-foot-11 Hanson added to a roster that included double-digit scorers Peyton Walker (17.9), Sabrina Whiting (15.7) and Ally Parimore (10.7), the Crusaders are well-suited for a deep postseason run.

“I was very proud of what those girls did last year,” Fawbush said. “If we had (Hanson) added to that, that very well could have been a state championship team. Now that she’s back, you see the result of it.”

That has meant a lot of nights where the Crusaders have eased up on overwhelmed opponents, deliberately running through their offense and tinkering with defensive concepts instead of imposing their will and running up the score.

Fawbush and his players admit to occasionally growing bored with the lopsided contests. They long for more competitive challengers to test them before the postseason.

“I feel so bad sometimes,” said Whiting, recalling an opposing team’s guard who cried as she brought the ball up the floor.

But the Crusaders are hindered in their efforts to improve their schedule because of district games and the scheduling practices of nearby school districts, including Hillsborough.

Lanness Robinson, athletic director for Hillsborough schools, said the district only arranges games against other district opponents for their 19-game schedules. This isn’t an official policy, Robinson said, so much as a practice that assures “that we control everything.”

“There’s no rule on who can play who,” said Robinson, noting schools are allowed to pick their other six games in the state-mandated 25-game schedule. “But we make one master schedule and we only schedule the people we know all the details about. There are no unknowns or no miscommunication when you do it in a centralized way.”

Freedom coach Laurie Pacholke sympathized with Seffner Christian’s struggles in finding competitive games to prepare for the playoffs.

“The only way Hillsborough County is going to be able to compete with the teams from Orlando, Miami and Naples is playing these types of games,” said Pacholke, whose team’s only two losses also came in the Queen of Palms tournament. “I’m a firm believer in doing whatever is best for the girls game.”

For Seffner Christian, that means entering tournaments like the Queen of Palms and occasionally scheduling games on Saturdays against strong private school programs.

The Crusaders understand, however, that their toughest challenges await them in the playoffs.

“Even though it’s tough to lose, sometimes you’ve got to lose to get better,” said Walker, referring to the Queen of Palms. “We’re looking to test ourselves however we can to get ourselves ready.”

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