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Central girls still savor sweet win over rival

Raqurra Ishmar says beating the Sharks “was the biggest deal of all.” She wasn’t wrong: they had never lost to a Hernando County team.

WILL VRAGOVIC | Times

Raqurra Ishmar says beating the Sharks “was the biggest deal of all.” She wasn’t wrong: they had never lost to a Hernando County team.

The newspaper clipping from arguably Central's biggest win hangs on her family's refrigerator.

Raqurra Ishmar proudly speaks about finally beating Nature Coast and being a member of the first team in Hernando County history to do so.

For years, the Bears junior forward said she had been taught to despise Nature Coast. She resented the positive press and all the talk about the North Suncoast's juggernaut.

So the image of her hoisting McKenzie Burns and screaming in celebration after the victory this month is something of a trophy to Ishmar and her teammates. It took seven years and 42 games for a Hernando County team to beat the Sharks.

"When I came to Central everyone told me about Nature Coast," Ishmar said. "I was like a new puppy; they taught me not to like Nature Coast.

"Beating them was the biggest deal of all."

The magnitude of the victory injected the team with supercharged confidence. Most of all, the girls are beginning to enjoy the success many felt should have come a year ago, before major setbacks sent last season into a tailspin.

The most significant blow was the Florida High School Athletic Association's decision to force Central to forfeit seven games from last season for using an ineligible player. The decision was announced just before the district tournament and dropped the Bears from the No. 2 seed to No. 5.

"They were bawling their eyes out, not because of losing but because of how it went down," Central coach Penny Gressick said. "I was crying. It was tough. I had a lot of girls I was coaching for a long time and I wanted to prove we were capable of what we were doing.

"That (decision) took the wind out of our sails."

Central already had overcome the loss of Ishmar before the season, out for 10 months because of a torn anterior cruciate ligament.

Still, Central was able to piece together an 11-8 record before the forfeits. The Bears ended the season 5-16.

"It was like someone died in our family," Ishmar said. "It was doom and gloom. Practices weren't fun anymore. All those wins taken away from us, it knocked down our record."

Central has moved on though thoughts of what could have been will dog the Bears for the foreseeable future. But they have regrouped and possibly bring a better group on the court than last season. They have won eight of their past nine, including a 70-11 win against rival Springstead on Friday night.

Ishmar leads the Bears, averaging 17.3 points and 12.2 rebounds. Another key post presence is Tikiera Relaford, who averages 10.9 points and 13.9 rebounds. And on the perimeter, Burns provides versatility, averaging 15.2 points and 5.1 assists.

"We were on top of the world," Burns said of the Nature Coast victory. "We could do anything. Now everyone should be scared of us. All of us now feel we can beat anyone."

Izzy Gould can be reached at igould@tampabay.com or (813) 421-3886.

Central girls still savor sweet win over rival 12/23/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, December 23, 2009 10:11pm]
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