Teams to watch
The Dragons return four starters from last season's Class 4A state semifinal team. Replacing point guard Jade Givens will be difficult, and players will have to get used to new coach Jim Baxter. But Jefferson has the most talented team in the county.
The heart of the Gryphons' lineup returns from a 25-4 team that advanced to the Class 5A region final. But this is All-America Duke recruit Amber Henson's last chance to win a state title.
After last season's run to the Class 3A state title, the scoring load will fall to Central Florida commitment Meghan Keough. The Crusaders lost a pair of 1,000-point scorers to graduation.
Tampa Bay Tech
The name Transfer Tech might be more fitting. The Titans add nearly 50 points a game in Shaunice Hobbs (Freedom), Brianna Thomas (Spoto) and Erica Young (Blake) looking to improve on last season's trip to the 5A region semis.
The Panthers have made seven straight trips to the region tournament but never reached the region final in that span. Is this the year? Returning players will have to pick up the slack for the loss of Michelle Taylor.
New Jefferson coach Jim Baxter has coached at all levels during his 38-year career, from eighth-grade boys to college women to the American Basketball Association. But in one way, he's a rookie: He has never coached high school girls. "I can adjust," Baxter said with a smile. Baxter inherits a team that returns four starters from a squad that went to the Class 4A state semifinals for the first time. He replaces Tom Mosca, who took an assistant coaching position at Air Force.
But as the Dragons attempt to improve on their best season ever, you might see a different look from them.
"They were very successful with Coach Mosca's system," Baxter said. "But a coach has to coach his personality within the capabilities of his players, and I'm still trying to get a handle on that."
Baxter doesn't wear a whistle around his neck because he doesn't want his players to expect to hear one.
He wants them to play through slaps and hacks.
The Dragons' practice routine now includes lifting weights and running the track, both additions from last season.
"I think it's a good transition," said senior center Bene'e Glanton, who has committed to Hampton. "We're learning more stuff that will help us transition to the college game."
Baxter comes to Jefferson from Bethune-Cookman, where he was a women's assistant coach, and he also coached women at Monmouth University.
Before then, he was the coach of the Memphis Houn'Dawgs of the American Basketball Association. Baxter also has been a successful high school boys coach at Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas and Palatka.
"I've never done this before, and I'm not going to get ahead of what we need to do," Baxter said. "I almost did that, but we've taken a half-step back here."
Baxter would like the Dragons to eventually morph into a fullcourt pressing team. For now, he will take pushing the ball up the court offensively, something the Dragons were successful with last season.
Senior Laurie' Beaty, last season's leading scorer, will take over at point guard. She replaces Jade Givens, who now is playing at North Florida.
Add in Glanton and juniors Shayla Wilson and Chantrell Frazier, and the Dragons have an impressive returning core — one fueled by last season's state semifinal loss to Pensacola.
"Coming off that loss, it was kind of hard to cope with," Beaty said.
"But basically (Baxter's) motivation is that he tells us he wants us to win the last game."
Said Glanton: "We know what we need to do. We were there. We know what we need to improve on. We know what we need to fix this time.
"We don't want to have that feeling again."