TAMPA — Walking into the gym at Cambridge on Monday, Academy at the Lakes coach Karim Nohra slipped directly past the display case that protects the school’s numerous awards and trophies.
In that case are trophies from the five straight district titles the Lancers won from 2002-06. There’s a region finalist trophy from 2003, another from ’04 and one more from ’05.
The players change on each, but the one constant is the head coach: Karim Nohra.
For the first time since his departure after the 2005-06 season from the school where he compiled a 137-18 record in five seasons, Nohra returned to Cambridge, this time as the opposing coach.
It was an empty feeling.
“It was weird to be sitting on the opposing bench,” Nohra said. “It felt pretty bad. It didn’t feel good.”
The feeling was mutual for the Lancers, albeit for different reasons.
The Wildcats’ high energy, high-pressure defense, a trademark of Nohra-coached teams, confounded the Lancers for much of the evening. Behind its press, Academy at the Lakes built a 24-9 lead at halftime and survived Cambridge’s second-half comeback attempt for a 44-35 win in a pivotal, early-season district matchup.
“We (press) religiously every game,” Nohra said. “Right now, we’re running it at probably about 40 percent efficiency. We’re not even close to being as good as we should be on those presses.”
That press, however, was good enough to force multiple turnovers from Cambridge (2-3). Ahead 14-9, Academy at the Lakes (5-1) turned up the pressure in the second quarter, holding the Lancers to two points. The Wildcats’ Marjorie Rivera scored three consecutive baskets, and Andrea Mauger added a field goal in the closing seconds of the first half to cap a 10-0 run that gave her team a 24-9 advantage at the break.
The Wildcats led by 13 midway through the third quarter, but the Lancers rallied furiously behind Susan Bealor and Rachael Bode. Bealor nailed a jumper and a 3-pointer to get the Lancers within eight. Bealor hit two more shots in the final minute of the third quarter, and Bode made it a three-point game with a 3-pointer at the buzzer.
The Lancers trimmed the lead to two points in the fourth but couldn’t get any closer. The Wildcats went on a 9-0 run midway through the quarter.
“It was a lackadaisical effort on our part,” Nohra said. “We escaped tonight. Our effort wasn’t as good or as intense as it normally is.”
Rivera had a double double for the Wildcats with a game-high 21 points and 10 rebounds. Mauger also had a double double, chipping in 18 points and 10 rebounds.
Bode was in foul trouble much of the first half but finished with 12 points. Bealor also had 12 points, including two 3-pointers.