WESLEY CHAPEL — This time last year, Wiregrass Ranch was wrapping up its season having won 57 percent of its games. This year, everything has changed, and everyone on the team knows why.
"We've really bonded as a team, and we're really unselfish," coach John Gant said. "It's really made all the difference in the world for our team this year."
The Bulls (23-2) are 6-2 in district play and seeded second for next week's Class 7A, District 8 tournament at Steinbrenner, the host and top seed.
Gant credited captain Logan Seoane with the change in the team. He said she's sociable and keeps camaraderie high. The girls have team dinners, watch video and spend their free time together.
"They've become a close-knit family of sorts," Gant said. "They care for one another. Off the court, that's huge."
Seoane, a senior, has noticed the difference, too. In the past, the team dealt with the normal clashes a group of teenage girls faces after spending so much time together. But this year, the girls "just click."
Going into this season, Seoane's goals for the group were modest.
"Just to have fun and work hard, and see where we can go," she said. "I knew we had five freshmen. I didn't really know how good we were going to be or what was going to happen."
The team's progress has exceeded those expectations, and their success is partially due to one of those freshmen. Stephanie Brower is averaging 10.2 points per game, making her the team's second-most prolific scorer in her first varsity season.
"We knew what kind of person she was before she got to us," said Gant, adding that her family is known for working hard. "What surprised me was her passion and her will to excel."
Gant said Brower's talent is evident as soon as she steps on the court. The freshman has been playing since she was in second grade, following in the footsteps of her older brother.
Now it's her dream to play well in high school and attend college, where she'd like to study a science, on a basketball scholarship.
Those goals are a long way off, though. Her aspirations going into this season were smaller, and she has already exceeded them.
"Of course, I just wanted to get better," Brower said. "Improve on my shooting and everything."
She wanted the Bulls to have a better record than last year, but she didn't expect them to be where they are now. She cited the same reasons as her coach and team captain.
"I think we've really bonded as a team," Brower said. "And we just play really well together. … I think we've exceeded everyone's expectations."
Up next for the Bulls is their district tournament opener against Freedom on Jan. 29. The Patriots (18-4, 4-4) have come on strong in recent weeks and are seeded third.
"It'll be a tough game," Gant said. "They beat us once; we beat them."
Brower and Seoane said the team is ready.
"We've been talking about it, we've been getting ready for it," Brower said. "We're just taking it one game at a time."