DADE CITY — It’s not the biggest or the shiniest, but the first-place trophy that Pasco’s girls basketball team won at last week’s Fivay tournament is a tangible symbol of one of the North Suncoast’s biggest turnarounds.
“That’s a start,” junior Raven Johnson said.
And it’s a sign of things to come for the Pirates.
Pasco faltered through a two-win season in 2009-10 under first-year coach Troy Moore. Two winters later, the Pirates (17-1) are second in Class 5A, District 8 heading into Friday’s showdown with first-place Gulf.
The biggest reasons why are three sophomores who weren’t around to experience Pasco’s struggles.
Guards Allahon Marbra and Brianca Roberts and forward Aaliyah McKenzie are the team’s leading scorers, combining for 39.9 points per game — 76 percent of the Pirates’ offense. They’re part of a roster that has transformed itself from a way for softball and volleyball players to stay in shape into a group of basketball junkies with dedicated offseason programs.
“The girls are more committed to basketball,” Moore said.
Few are more committed than Marbra, who had been a standout player in middle school but didn’t play outside of school. Playing varsity ball as a freshman jarred the perfectionist and was a tough welcome to the rigors of high school sports. She averaged only 5.5 points per game and shot 32 percent from the field.
“She saw her game wasn’t where she wanted it to be,” Moore said.
So Marbra spent her summer in the gym with teammates. She has evolved into one of the county’s breakout players this season, averaging a team-high 16.6 points per game while increasing her shooting percentage by 7.0 points.
Roberts’ transformation was as extreme. Moore said his point guard was a typical ninth-grader who relied too heavily on her right hand last winter.
After dribbling with her off hand during much of the summer and even forcing herself to eat left-handed, Roberts has become a spark plug for the Pirates’ offense. She’s cut her turnovers by 1.4 per game, increased her assists by 1.7 per game and boosted her scoring average to 14.9 per contest.
“I worked on my ball handling so when it was time for us all to come together, I had my part done,” Roberts said.
McKenzie has grown into a leader and a calming influence on the court by cracking jokes to keep her team light. It’s a skill Pasco will likely need tonight against Gulf (16-2).
Pasco played the Buccaneers tight for two quarters in their previous meeting but couldn’t match Gulf’s second-half intensity in a 49-31 loss.
“I don’t think that night any of us were mentally ready,” Marbra said.
The Pirates expect to change that in Friday’s rematch — and show that they’re ready to start bringing more trophies to Dade City.
Matt Baker can be reached at email@example.com.