SEFFNER — As Seffner Christian's starting point guard three years ago, Sabrina Whiting led the Crusaders to the Sweet 16 as a seventh-grader. The following year she took them to the Elite 8 and into the Final Four last season.
So the logical step this season?
"Championship game," Whiting said with a chuckle.
Whiting, a sophomore, is a major reason the ultra-young Crusaders have a trip to Lakeland on their minds. Seffner Christian, coming off an impressive showing at the prestigious Fort Myers Queen of the Palms Classic over the winter break, entered a Thursday night game against Tampa Catholic 13-3.
"That tournament is for anybody who's anybody," coach Greg Fawbush said.
Seffner Christian is quickly entering into the conversation of who's who considering their recent surge the past few years. The Class 3A Crusaders defeated several schools in higher classifications including Palm Harbor (8A) and Lehigh (5A) before eventually falling in their bracket title game to Palm Beach Central (8A).
"It was a good experience to go against such good teams," Fawbush said.
And the future looks quite bright. The Crusaders have no seniors on the team and just two juniors. The rest are all underclassmen.
"We're young but (Whiting) provides such leadership for us," Fawbush said. "She can really do it all."
Whiting leads the backcourt, averaging team highs in assists (4.0 per game) and steals (5.7 per game) while averaging 14.6 per game. But the Crusaders' go-to player is freshman Peyton Walker, who's leading the team in scoring (17.2 points) and rebounds (12.3).
"She is the best freshman in the county," Fawbush said.
The Crusaders press frequently on defense, which feeds their up-tempo offense.
"We set a goal of how many turnovers we want to create before a game," Walker said. "We're a fast-breaking team."
But things haven't been all smooth sailing for Seffner Christian. The Crusaders were dealt a blow before the season even tipped off when Jaitesha Hanson, who led Seffner Christian in scoring last year, transferred to Riverview.
"We were pretty disappointed at first because she played with us through the summer," Walker said. "But it was her decision and we aren't mad at her or anything."
Fawbush said he was impressed the way his young team handled losing its top scorer coming off such a deep playoff run and a promising season ahead.
"No disrespect to her, but we have to coach and play with who we have, not who we don't have," he said. "These girls have put in the work in the weight room and the offseason and realized they just had to move on."
But adversity struck again last week when Whiting's backcourt mate Ally Parimore, the team's top defender and third leading scorer, suffered a right shoulder injury against Bishop McLaughlin Saturday.
It was at first thought to be a torn labrum in her shooting shoulder, but tests Tuesday revealed a slight dislocation. Fawbush is hopeful to have Parimore back in the lineup during the district tournament that starts Jan. 31 at Seffner Christian.
"The girls proved how tough they were (Tuesday night in a 63-35 win against First Academy)," Fawbush said. "I was anxious to see how they would respond playing without her and they showed it (Tuesday)."
Brandon Wright can be reached at [email protected]