MORE from our HomeTeam writers.
Player of the year: G/F Kayla Kivinski, So., Gulf
Why we picked her: With 86 percent of its offense and 71 percent of its rebounding gone, Gulf knew it would have to find new sources of productivity to have a shot at another strong playoff run. “I think everyone stepped up a little,” Kivinski said. But no one did so more than the 5-foot-9 guard/forward. Kivinski grew from averaging 5.5 points per game as a freshman to 18.2 this season, despite battling defense keyed to stop her. The great shooter added a team-high 9.2 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per game to help a rebuilding team advance to the Class 5A region finals and earn Player of the Year honors by edging out Academy at the Lakes’ Amelia Oliver. Kivinski was held under 11 points only three times.
Biggest accomplishment: Kivinski and the Bucs struggled early in the Class 5A, District 8 title game against Pasco. Gulf shot only 28 percent — until Kivinski took off in the third quarter. She scored 14 of her game-high 23 points in that quarter to seize control of the game and give her team the district title. Kivinski also exploded for 25 points against a strong Nature Coast team.
Future plans: Kivinski has the chance to become one of the top players in Gulf history. She plans to attend college to study math or engineering and said she’d like to stay in Florida, depending on what scholarships are available and what schools offer the best academics. Kivinski is receiving recruiting interest from UCF and Western Kentucky.
Did you know? Kivinski stays active off the court, too. She played volleyball and ran track in middle school and has continued skateboarding and roller skating in high school. She also likes to play table tennis.
G Amelia Oliver, Sr., Academy at the Lakes: Led the Wildcats in scoring (18.9 ppg) and shot 47 percent from the field to help bring coach Karim Nohra to the promised land of the final four.
G Kadejah Saunders, Jr., Gulf: Speedy scorer put up 16.8 points and was an offensive catalyst on a young Bucs team.
G Kelly McCaffrey, Sr., Wiregrass Ranch: Conference player of the year led Pasco County in scoring (19.2 ppg) while adding nine rebounds and four assists.
F Vanessa Vincent, Sr., Academy at the Lakes: Averaged a double double (10.9 points, 11 rebounds) during the Wildcats’ run to the Class 2A state semifinal.
F Lyndsey Pospisil, Sr., Nature Coast: 6-foot-1 post led the team in scoring (12.6 points) and averaged 7.2 rebounds. Recorded a double double (26 points, 13 rebounds) in the 5A-7 district semifinals.
G Lexy Schulman, Jr., Gulf
G Brianca Roberts, So., Pasco
G Natasha Morris, Sr., Ridgewood
F Andrea Mauger, Jr., Academy at the Lakes
F Courtney Crawford, Sr., Nature Coast
Academy at the Lakes: Samantha Fernandez; Anclote: Bernadette Powers; Bishop McLaughlin: Andrea Niggebrugge, Taylor McDonald; Central: Christina Lewis; Fivay: Alicia Artley; Hernando: Remi Manuel; Land O’Lakes: Kendra Sheets, Sarah Nichols; Mitchell: Nina Argento, Caitlin Baggarly; Nature Coast: Je’Nay Yore; Pasco: Allahon Marbra, Aaliyah Mckenzie, Ashley Webster; Ridgewood: Samantha Sheldon, Mary Kujak; River Ridge: Leah Ford, Vashoula Kostogiannes; Springstead: Anna Poholek, Hailey Enjeneski; Sunlake: Jhade Hayes; Wesley Chapel: Tiffany Echeverria; Wiregrass Ranch: Amanda Melosky; Zephyrhills: Paige Cleghorn
Coach of the Year
Mike Quarto, Gulf
Academy at the Lakes’ Karim Nohra’s long-awaited trip to the final four was an impressive feat, but no coach did a better job this season than Quarto. His Bucs lost one of the best players in school history, 86 percent of their scoring and 71 percent of their rebounding. But Quarto led his team to an area-best 28-3 record and Gulf’s second appearance in the region finals.
Player of the year: C Tyler Bergantino, Sr., Nature Coast
Why we picked him: Bergantino has been the top player in the area most of his career, and his senior season was no different. He averaged a team-high 17.2 points and shot 69 percent from the field to help the Sharks finally make state and earn the Times’ honor for the third consecutive year. He pulled down almost 14 rebounds and blocked an astounding 5.6 shots per contest. Even if he was double-teamed offensively, the 6-foot-9 center dominated with his passing and rebounding, and his looming presence in the middle was enough to make up for any of his teammates’ defensive mistakes.
Biggest accomplishment: Bergantino helped Nature Coast become the North Suncoast’s top team, taking the Sharks to the elite eight three consecutive years. “That’s pretty hard to do,” Bergantino said. And his team finally broke through this season with a trip to the Class 5A final four. Bergantino played well on his only trip to Lakeland — 17 points, 11 rebounds and nine blocks in a loss to Jacksonville Parker — but said he was most proud of sharing the experience with his close-knit team. “There’s not really anything better than that,” Bergantino said.
Future plans: Bergantino signed with UMass in November, choosing the Minutemen over Virginia Tech, USF, Ohio and others. He’ll join a team that won 25 games this season and advanced to the NIT semifinals before losing to Stanford. Bergantino is considering studying business with the goal of bringing a sports angle to a charity or non-profit organization.
Did you know? Bergantino has a great sense of humor and loves watching comedies and superhero movies. His favorite film is Transformers. …He began playing piano at age 4 and still enjoys music as a hobby. He watches videos of pianists on YouTube, then tries to teach himself how to copy their hand movements and replay their pieces. “It’s something I do for fun,” Bergantino said.
F Rico Kerney, Jr., Wiregrass Ranch: The area’s top scorer averaged 25.1 points, 14.2 rebounds and 3.3 blocks per game for a 17-win Bulls team.
F Erik Thomas, Jr., Wesley Chapel: Conference player of the year is already one of the top players in school history. Averaged 22 points, 14 rebounds, three steals and three blocks.
G Jake Driscoll, Sr., Mitchell: The Division I prospect battled back from an arm injury to average 22.6 ppg and lead the Mustangs to the playoffs. He exploded for 51 points in the season opener against Wiregrass Ranch.
G Jamal Branco, Sr., Hudson: Averaged 16 points, six assists and seven rebounds. His team struggled when he was out with a foot injury but became a playoff team when he returned.
G Blake Lowman, Sr., Nature Coast: The floor general was a sweet shooter and sure leader during the Sharks’ run to the final four. Florida Southern recruit led NCT with 7.8 assists and 3.1 steals.
G Brandon McWhorter, Sr., Anclote
G Ethan Haslam, Fr., Academy at the Lakes
G Ernest McClendon, Sr., Land O’Lakes
F Terrance Owens, Sr., Hernando
G Chris Parra, Jr., Wiregrass Ranch
Academy at the Lakes: Abaz Igwe; Anclote: Chris Gregory; Bishop McLaughlin: Marcus Davis; Central: Rudy Robinson, Troy Stewart; Fivay: Joe Ross; Gulf: Tony Rangel, Damion Hicks; Hernando: Mark Wilson; Hudson: Bryce Durham; Land O’Lakes: Mike Morrow, Victor Obi, Jackson Cannon; Mitchell: Jordan Dong; Nature Coast: Rohan Blackwood, Donovan Ingram, John Parker, Caleb Martin; Pasco: Jacob Guy; Ridgewood: Tony Hays; River Ridge: John Childs; Springstead: Josh Lopes; Sunlake: Pedro Pabon, Terrence Tabois; Wesley Chapel: Sasha Mentor; Wiregrass Ranch: Dimarco Burgess; Zephyrhills: Kayel Oppenheimer
Coach of the year
David Pisarcik, Nature Coast
Academy at the Lakes’ Tom Haslam took his young team to the elite eight, but Pisarcik earns the honor after his squad compiled one of the best seasons in North Suncoast history. The Sharks finished 27-2 and advanced to state after back-to-back elite eight letdowns. Pisarcik helped develop sophomore Rohan Blackwood and juggled his senior role players effectively in a run to the Class 5A state semifinals.