SEFFNER — Here they go again.
For the fifth straight season, the Seffner Christian Crusaders face Miami Country Day at the state tournament in Lakeland. The past four seasons have not gone as planned.
In 2013, there was a nine-point loss in a Class 3A semifinal. In 2014, a 14-point loss in the final. In 2015, an 18-point loss in the final. And last season it was a 30-point loss in a semifinal.
Country Day has won three straight state championships. This season, the Spartans are 27-1, with the lone loss coming to a school from California. They are the No. 1 team in Florida, according to MaxPreps.
Despite all of this history, the Crusaders aren't too shabby either, with a 29-1 record and 28-game win streak. They are MaxPreps' third-ranked team in the state.
The best thing Seffner Christian can have is amnesia.
"I sure hope this year will turn out different," said senior guard Chelsie Hall. "We're going to be as ready as we can be. It's a little different this season. We've gone through some things and I think that's made us stronger."
For the first time in more than a month, the Crusaders will be fully healthy with 6-foot-2 freshman center Macey Zeh Arndt (6.0 rebounds), senior Hope Hunter (just over seven points per game) and junior shooting guard Nykeria Reed (7.0 points) back from injuries.
All except Zeh Arndt played in Seffner Christian's 76-28 blowout of Orlando First Academy last Tuesday.
"A couple weeks ago I thought we were kind of off synch a little bit," second-year coach Joe Cooper said. "A lot of that had to do with injuries. But the level and energy they brought into regional play is very exciting. We've had some really good practices and we're starting to turn that corner."
It always helps to have a player like Hall. Committed to Vanderbilt, Hall has the ability to take over games. She averages 18.4 points, but scored an easy 24 against First Academy. She is a menace on defense, with almost six steals per game. Many of those steals turn into easy layups.
"Defense is the best offense," Hall said.
Hall is not the only scoring threat. Sophomore Brylee Bartram is a 3-point shooting specialist. She averages 16 points and has made 113 threes in 28 games. Senior Avree Carpenter scores 11 points per game and has a knack for getting to the basket.
Then there is the addition of junior guard Audra Leipold. A transfer from Academy at the Lakes — another regular state final four contender — Leipold has given the Crusaders another offensive threat. She averages 12.2 points and can shoot from the outside or drive to the basket. She recently eclipsed 2,000 points in her high school career.
"I think we have more balance this year," Cooper said. "With Audra in there, it helps."
Leipold admitted it took a while to get used to her new team, but believes the chemistry is on point and this is the year to win it all.
Her teammates agree.
"We're definitely playing at a high level," Bartram said. "We've all been putting in a lot of extra work in practice. We'll try to play our best basketball. The game plan is in place. I think we're ready.
"We all know what we have to do to win. It's just a matter of doing it."