TAMPA — Buying gifts for senior night has never been easier for Tampa Prep coach Cindy Schofield.
She paced the promenade of Citrus Park Mall this week, looking for jewelry, or picture frames, or some other pricey trinket, then a store that could engrave player names into the items.
Schofield ultimately made an order for two bracelets.
“This is a pretty cheap year,” said Schofield, who took over the program in 2009. “It’s probably the cheapest and easiest year since I’ve been here.”
With their youngest team in nearly a decade, the Terrapins (10-5, 6-0) clinched the top seed in Class A, District 7 and remained unbeaten in league play for at least the seventh consecutive season.
They will start defense of their district crown Thursday night against the winner of the Seffner Christian-Carrollwood Day quarterfinal.
But at 727 W Cass St. in downtown Tampa, the postseason standard is much higher than local or even region dominance. Tampa Prep is aiming to return to the state tournament after falling short last season for the first time since 2005-06.
“It was hard last year to lose at regionals, since I’d already been to the state finals and I knew what it was like,” senior goalkeeper Carly Reiner said. “A lot of girls on this team don’t know what it’s like.
“It’s harder to want it when you don’t know what you’re missing. I want them to know what it’s like to be there.”
The Terrapins will attempt to return to state with underclassmen as their top eight scorers and only two seniors on the roster, a little less than half their average in recent years. Tampa Prep hasn’t been this young since 2006-07, when it lost in the region semifinals.
Schofield was forced to quickly rebuild the program after the loss of four seniors, including all-time leading scorer, former Times’ Player of the Year and current LSU freshman Colby Maffei.
Without Maffei to carry the offense, the Terrapins’ scoring responsibilities have been shared by sophomore Darla Harrison (39 points), junior Abby Bravo (33) and junior Alexandra Daley (29).
That youth, inexperience and an unusual number of injuries have resulted in Tampa Prep averaging nearly a goal fewer per match compared with last year, with 56 scored in 15 games compared with 117 in 24 in 2011-12.
“It’s been more of a challenge than it was last year,” Daley said. “But I think it’s better for us to rely on everyone on the team. Sometimes it’s also surprising to other teams when anyone can score.”
The challenges were immediately evident: the Terrapins started the season with three straight losses, including a 3-0 defeat to Lakeland Christian in a rematch of their region final.
They have rebounded down the stretch, particularly in league play, winning 10 of their past 12. And as usual, they will be prohibitive favorites in their district tournament next week.
Deeper in the playoffs, however, the Terrapins will likely face the sort of senior-laden teams they once rode regularly to the final four.
Schofield plans to constantly remind her younger players what’s at stake at this stage of the season.
“We need to peak at the right time and sometimes we have to bring that up,” she said. “Starting next week, they need to know that it’s all business. The mentality has to change.”
Class 5A-7 at Plant
Tuesday: No. 4 Bloomingdale vs. No. 5 Durant, 3; No. 3 Newsome vs. No. 6 Riverview, 5; No. 2 Wharton vs. No. 7 Alonso, 7
Jan. 17: Newsome-Riverview winner vs. Wharton-Alonso winner, 5; No. 1 Plant vs. Bloomingdale-Durant winner, 7
Jan. 19: Final, 6
Class 4A-8 at Steinbrenner
Tuesday: No. 4 Freedom vs. No. 5 Sickles, 6; No. 3 Gaither vs. No. 6 Chamberlain, 8
Wednesday: No. 1 Wiregrass Ranch vs. Freedom-Sickles winner, 6; No. 2 Steinbrenner vs. Gaither-Chamberlain winner, 8
Jan. 18: Final, 7
Class 4A-9 at Strawberry Crest
Tuesday: No. 2 East Bay vs. No. 7 Armwood, 4; No. 3 Strawberry Crest vs. No. 6 Tampa Bay Tech, 6; No. 4 Hillsborough vs. No. 5 Brandon, 8
Wednesday: Strawberry Crest-TBT winner vs. East Bay-Armwood winner, 5; No. 1 Plant City vs. Hillsborough-Brandon winner, 7
Jan. 18: Final, 7
Class 3A-9 at King
Tuesday: No. 1 Robinson vs. No. 8 Middleton, 6; No. 2 King vs. No. 7 Spoto, 8
Wednesday: No. 4 Jefferson vs. No. 5 Leto, 6; No. 3 Lennard vs. No. 6 Blake, 8
Jan. 17: Robinson-Middleton winner vs. Jefferson-Leto winner, 6; Lennard-Blake winner vs. King-Spoto winner, 8
Jan. 18: Final, 8
Class 2A-9 at Clearwater Central Catholic
Tuesday: No. 4 Holy Names vs. No. 5 Tampa Catholic, 7
Wednesday: No. 1 St. Petersburg Catholic vs. AHN-TC winner, 5; No. 2 CCC vs. No. 3 Berkeley Prep, 7
Jan. 18: Final, 7
Tuesday: No. 5 Carrollwood Day at No. 4 Seffner Chr., TBD; No. 7 Bishop McLaughlin at No. 2 Calvary Christian, 4; No. 6 Cambridge at No. 3 Indian Rocks Chr., TBD
Jan. 17 at Calvary Chr.: Calvary-Bishop winner vs. IRC-Cambridge winner, 5; No. 1 Tampa Prep vs. Seffner-CDS winner, 7
Jan. 18 at Calvary Chr.: Final, 7