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ST. PETERSBURG — Tianah Alvarado has learned that life isn’t always a swish. Sometimes it can foul pretty hard.
Two years ago, Alvarado was putting the finishing touches on a spectacular sophomore season.
She scored a game-high 23, to go along with 13 rebounds and six steals, to lead Lakewood High School past Pensacola in a state girls basketball final, helping the Spartans to their first state championship since 1989.
Alvarado averaged nearly 20 points per game that season and was on pace to become the best player Lakewood had seen since her current coach, Necole Tunsil.
Then in an early game last year, Alvarado partially tore her ACL and was sidelined for the season. She made the trip back to Lakeland with her team for the Class 5A state semifinal — in street clothes.
“It was tough,” Alvarado said. “I just had to work hard to try and get back. It really wasn’t until the fall that I felt okay again. I don’t think I started the season at 100 percent but it gets stronger every day.”
Basketball has always been the sport of choice for Alvarado. She spent many childhood hours playing on various St. Petersburg courts with her older sister, Taye’lor Trotter, who was also on Lakewood’s 2011 state championship team.
“We were very competitive,” Alvarado said. “I really look up to her.”
With Trotter off playing at Palm Beach State College, Alvarado went through rehab without her best friend. She got back on the court near the end of the summer, playing some games with her travel team, Essence, before the high school season started.
Once she put a Lakewood jersey on again, Alvarado returned to her old ways as the Spartans’ go-to scorer. She may not show it outwardly, but Alvarado is happy to be back in her comfort zone.
“She has a very laid-back attitude,” Tunsil said. “That is sometimes misinterpreted as a bad attitude. She doesn’t smile much, she doesn’t show much. But she enjoys the game.”
Alvarado has led Lakewood (23-6) back to the state final four a third straight season. The senior averages 19.5 points and four steals, and said she has no problem being the Spartans’ main scoring threat.
“That’s just me,” Alvarado said. “I just like to score. Some people aren’t like that. I’m the shooter. That’s the role I have.”
But Tunsil warns that Alvarado is more than just a scorer.
“The chatter in the locker room around district time was that we needed to step it up on defense,” Tunsil said. “Tianah has been a very big part of that. She gets the steals and that motivates everyone else.”
Alvarado’s scoring ability, as well as her defensive skills, has caught the attention of college coaches. She has orally committed to Seton Hall, but a coaching change has those plans on hold. She said she will wait to see whom the school hires before signing.
For now, her only goal is to win a second state title before her high school career ends.
And that’s a very real possibility for a team loaded with talent.
Senior Alexis Ungro has played well throughout the playoffs. Freshman Siyana Allen has been a big presence underneath. And St. Petersburg transfer Deja Swinton, a sophomore, has proved a capable scorer at guard.
About the only negative is the loss of forward Kasey Drayton, who injured her right thumb around midseason and has not been able to return.
“I think this is one of the more talented teams I’ve been on here,” Alvarado said. “We’re young. But if everybody plays their roles then we should be on top.
“I knew we had some big things ahead of us. You add players like Siyana and Deja and we should be pretty good.”
The quest for another state title continues Friday when the Spartans face Tallahassee Rickards (18-12) in the Class 5A semifinals.
Alvarado’s journey back to Lakeland may have had a bump in the road, but she’s ready to move on.
“It’s kind of bittersweet,” Alvarado said. “It’s the end of another chapter. Now it’s time for college. I get to move on to bigger and better things.”
As for her legacy at Lakewood?
“She’d be up in that top five of players who have come through Lakewood High School,” Tunsil said.
Where: At the Lakeland Center
Admission: $10 per session; parking is $7
Class 5A: Tallahassee Rickards vs. Lakewood, 10 a.m. Friday
On the Web: We’ll be live blogging the game at tampabay.com/hometeam.
About Tallahassee Rickards
Road to the final four: Defeated Panama City Bay 67-40, d. Panama City Rutherford 57-43, d. Ponte Vedra Nease 52-49.
Key players: Shannon Owens (15.1 points, 9.1 rebounds per game); Gabby Figgers (8.8 points per game); Jasmine Harris (6.0 points per game).
Noteworthy: This is Rickards’ fourth straight appearance at state, but the Raiders have yet to win a game.
Rodney Page can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @RodneyHomeTeam.