More than once, first-year Wesley Chapel girls basketball coach Karim Nohra has suggested he'd sooner have pictured himself as the next American Idol before picturing the Wildcats as state tournament contenders in 2009. As the 'Cats (26-2) kept winning, some probably began discounting Nohra's shock as cautious coaching rhetoric. It wasn't. Consider where Nohra's players — and Nohra himself — were a year ago at this time (we did, as documented below). Six had recently finished junior varsity seasons. Three had recently finished middle school seasons. Zero were regular starters for Wesley Chapel. Yet 12 months later, the 'Cats' collective glass sneaker remains in one piece. Tonight, they host Winter Park Lake Howell for a state tournament berth. "I honestly thought we had the potential to do it," sophomore Jeileen Mas said, "but I knew we had to work for it."
The projected starters (with current grade)
Gabbi Brown, So.
This season: Averaging 6.4 points, 5.4 rebounds
Last season: Played for Land O'Lakes junior varsity; was promoted late in season
Jeileen Mas, So.
This season: Ranks third on team in scoring (9.3 ppg) and second in 3-pointers (30)
Last season: Member of Wildcats JV who was promoted late in the season; scored two points for varsity
Hannah Noble, So.
This season: Averaging 8.4 points, team-high 5.2 assists; leads team with 32 3-pointers
Last season: Another late-season JV callup; broke her collarbone in a game at River Ridge
Shantel Houston, Jr.
This season: Averaging nearly a double double (16.9 ppg, 8.2 rpg); one of three Wildcats to play in all 28 games
Last season: Like Mas and Noble, a JV player promoted late in season
Janelle Mills, Sr.
This season: Averaging a double double (15.5 ppg, 11.7 rpg) through 10 contests; missed two months with broken wrist; had 27 points, 10 boards in a playoff win against Armwood
Last season: Occasional varsity starter; averaged 5.3 points, seven rebounds
Coach Karim Nohra
Nohra, who took 11 teams to the postseason in stints at Cambridge Christian and Tampa Catholic, was out of coaching. "I went to the Sickles (playoff) game when Sickles played (Sarasota) Riverview. I actually saw this team play Tampa Bay Tech in the region (quarterfinals)," Nohra said. "I just went around watching games."
(with 2007-08 whereabouts)
Sr. Alexis Braynen: Played for Wesley Chapel JV
Fr. Brittany Byrd: Starter at Weightman Middle School
Jr. Dana Cannon: Starter for Wharton's varsity, which won one game
Fr. Raven Gilbert: Starter at Greco Middle School, Temple Terrace
So. Tranisha Henry: Backup for Wesley Chapel JV
Jr. Phylicia Lennox: Played for Ridgewood JV
Fr. Nece Reynolds: Starter at Weightman Middle School