TAMPA — It had to seem familiar to those in the crowd Wednesday at Tampa Catholic: the pressing defense, the run-and-shoot offense and the gruff instructions from the silver-haired coach who had little use for his chair.
For Academy at the Lakes coach Karim Nohra, the outcome was nothing new.
But for Tampa Catholic, the scoreboard showed just how much things have changed.
Tatiana Manuel scored 18 and Andrea Mauger added 16 to lead Academy at the Lakes to a 55-27 win over the Crusaders in Nohra’s return to the school where he got his start as a head coach 22 seasons ago.
“I have a special place in my heart for this school,” said Nohra, who guided Tampa Catholic’s program from 1990-2001 and won at least 20 games in his final eight years there. “We built it up.”
Nohra is now doing the same for the Wildcats, who are off to a 6-0 start after advancing to the Class 2A semifinals last spring.
Their latest victim was the Crusaders (3-3), who have stumbled out of the gate in their first year under coach Matthew Rocha. Tampa Catholic is essentially starting from scratch after former coach Nancy Kroll, who compiled a 146-33 record and won state championships in 2010 and ’11, stepped down in March.
That has left Rocha and the Crusaders with a roster of four freshmen, two sophomores and four seniors, only two with much game experience.
Those two seniors, Brittany Betts and Danielle Battle, combined for 20 of the team’s 27 points Wednesday.
“We’ve got a lot of really talented underclassmen but they don’t have a lot of varsity experience,” said Rocha, who went 34-20 in two seasons at Ridgewood. “So they got thrown into the fire.”
It was Tampa Catholic’s worst home loss since a 79-42 defeat to Academy of the Holy Names on Jan. 4, 2007.
The Wildcats overwhelmed Tampa Catholic with Nohra’s signature halfcourt traps, forcing 37 turnovers — more than three times the number of Crusaders field goals (11).
Holding a 10-7 lead late in the first quarter, Academy at the Lakes turned up the defensive pressure and went on a 20-0 run before allowing a free throw just before halftime.
During one stretch of that game-deciding run, Tampa Catholic committed 13 turnovers in 19 possessions.
Betts, the Crusaders’ leading scorer and a Rollins College signee, didn’t score her first points until late in the third quarter. She finished with a team-high 12.
Nohra said the Wildcats’ defense was geared toward keeping the ball out of Betts’ hands and forcing her teammates to beat them.
“I wanted somebody else to dribble and somebody else to take the shot,” Nohra said. “That was the game plan. And I think we were successful with that.”