TRINITY — Waking at 5:30 a.m., lacing up your sneakers and heading to the gym for a 6 a.m. practice isn’t exactly what every high school hoopster dreams of doing each day, but it’s a typical morning for the Mitchell girls basketball squad.
There are no stars on the Mustangs team, no player averaging 20 points — junior Caitlin Baggarly leads the team at 10.5.
“We have to use everything we need,” coach Jacob Tavo said. “The only way for us to win is for us to play as a team, offensively and defensively. We get compliments all the time from referees that we’re the most fundamental team they’ve seen play since we don’t have that star person that can take over a team. Someone different steps up every night.”
Mitchell (15-12) does have 11 hard-working players. Before every game, the girls will write a letter on their hand, which when joined spells a word that describes their team. Some may see more playing time, but in the end it’s all about a family atmosphere on and off the court.
“Coach Tavo has brought us all together so close,” senior guard Danielle O’Connor said. “We all hang out together all the time and I think that plays a big part of our team chemistry, so if we ever have any disputes we can figure it out easily. All of us seniors have been playing together since ninth grade. We’ve stuck it out through all the transfers and I’m just really proud of our team.”
In the past few years, key players Lashe and Latrel Kirkland (Clearwater) and Caitlin Corbitt (Gulf) transferred out, which only motivated current Mustangs.
“We’ve lost a lot of people but I’m glad a lot of us have stuck it out,” O’Connor said. “I think the people who have left just made the team stronger.”
Mitchell’s strength is relentless defense. The Mustangs have held opponents to 35.2 points their past 18 games, including limiting county powerhouse Gulf to 49 in Saturday’s Class 4A, District 7 championship.
Tavo believes the team’s help defense in man-to-man, instead of playing zone, has been key.
“We pride ourselves on not letting the other team score more than eight points a quarter,” Tavo said. “We used great help defense against Gulf. Once a team has the ball on the ground, five girls are in the lane. Our weakness is our rebounding, because we’ll hold the other team to a bad shot but won’t get the rebound.”
Mitchell can build on Saturday’s loss to Gulf as it prepares for Land O’Lakes in Thursday’s Class 4A region quarterfinal. The Bucs and Gators have offenses that revolve around high-scoring guards — Gulf’s Nicole Adams (29.6 ppg) and Land O’Lakes’ Shanel Sweet (17.9).
The Mustangs hope to surprise a few people by knocking off the Gators, then getting back to practice Friday morning.
Yes, that’s a 6 a.m. practice.