SPRING HILL — Reagan Huden came into this season only eight points shy of a milestone that no other player in Springstead High history had ever reached — 1,000 points for a career.
The Eagles have been playing girls basketball for 40 years, but the program has been one of the least successful until recently. The team went 0-20 as recently as 2010, but the past few years have indicated a culture change.
"It all starts with the freshmen," Springstead coach Jay McNerney said. "You have to let them know the expectations right away."
The tide turned when McNerney took over on the sideline in 2014. In three years, he already is the second-winningest coach in program history with a 37-32 mark coming into this season. With Ed Chester sporting a 44-109 record in his two stints at the helm (1981-84, 1992-96), McNerney likely will surpass him before the season ends.
Much of that success can be attributed to his trust in Huden. The diminutive point guard runs the offense with precision, dangerous as both a scorer and passer. Even at 5-foot-4, she is a force on the boards because of her hustle and refusal to ever give up on a play.
"Reagan was so quiet when she first came in as a freshman," McNerney said. "She wasn’t much different as a sophomore, but over the past couple years, she has become more comfortable as a leader and the other girls really take their cues from her."
Anyone who saw her knew early on that she was going to be an impact player in high school. While attending Explorer K-8 during middle school, she was already attracting attention as an eighth grader. Then-Springstead coach George Bennett would routinely trek down the road to watch her play.
As a freshman, Huden set a school record by posting a 17.3 scoring average. Last year, she broke her own record when she averaged 18.8 points per game. Even with all her highlights and exploits, including being named to the Times’ all-North Suncoast team each of her three prep seasons, she had never surpassed 30 points in a game.
That all changed in the season opener against Central. Determined to get to the 1,000-point barrier early, she buried a jumper less than a minute into the second quarter to accomplish the goal. She was far from done. The Eagles, who had reached the playoffs each of the past two seasons, were down 34-22 to the Bears at halftime.
"I was so nervous going into (the Central game)," Huden said. "I was afraid I might not even score the points I needed to get to 1,000. Once that was out of the way, I settled down, and we were able to change things."
McNerney went to Huden to lead the second-half charge, and she did not disappoint. Outscoring Central 18-9 on her own, the senior poured in a career-high 33 to lead the Eagles a 52-43 comeback victory.
"It’s a process to come together with the new girls," Huden said "Even over the five games we’ve played this year so far, the difference is huge."
The two postseason appearances for Springstead (3-2 entering the week) were the first two in school history. Last season’s 51-46 win in the Class 7A region quarterfinals at King was the first win for the team on that stage. The improvement from season to season has this current group thinking about a potential playoff run.
Huden is joined by solid role players, including double-double machine Yhanni Batts and Hernando Christian transfer Shyann McElwain. Veteran guard Morgan Nelski and freshman Tiana Stifanic have also been strong this year. With a good mix of experience and youth, McNerney is excited about this team’s potential and the future.
"We’re not worried about the games at the beginning of the season," he said. "The most important games come at the end."