If the Jefferson girls basketball team goes on to win a state championship this weekend, coach Tom Mosca may have a three-game losing streak to thank.
Most in the ever-growing Jefferson nation probably won't be thinking much about that when the Dragons tip off in the Class 3A state semifinal against Pensacola today at 11:30 a.m. at the Lakeland Center.
But Mosca shouldn't be faulted if he is.
He credits that three-game losing streak at the Fort Myers Christmas Tournament (Jupiter, Orlando Boone and Pembroke Pines Flanagan beat Jefferson) with helping lay the groundwork for this championship run.
"We didn't get it done there (at the tournament)," said Mosca, who is in his seventh season at Jefferson. "But after Christmas is when we started looking at things differently this season. That's where things changed."
Someone called a players-only meeting. Mosca said he doesn't know who called it, and he didn't ask. Issues were ironed out, and feelings got bruised.
But the Dragons, 28-3, haven't lost a game since.
In fact, no opponent has been within 20 points of Jefferson during its record winning streak of 16 straight games.
"This really isn't anything more than hard work," said Mosca, who guided the University of Tampa women's basketball program for 13 seasons before eventually moving back to the prep level and taking over the Jefferson program in 2003.
"It was pretty rough when I first got here, but what you see now is a committed group of players whose hard work is paying off."
At the center of those committed players is senior point guard Jade Givens.
A slashing playmaker who can score (and has) almost at will, Givens became more of a team leader this season. That meant making more decisions on the floor, guiding the offense and scoring less.
Mosca said Givens took on the job willingly.
"She changed her whole outlook on the position," Mosca said. "She doesn't have to get the points. She chooses to make that one more pass."
And she's usually passing to Laurie Beaty, Shayla Wilson or Chantrell Frazier.
Beaty, a junior guard, is the Dragons' go-to scorer, netting 15 points a game this season. In Jefferson's 66-41 region finals victory against Naples Barron Collier, Beaty sparked a 17-2 third period run with five straight points. She scored 15 points in the win that has sent the Dragons to their first state final four.
Wilson, a sophomore center, led the Dragons in rebounds, evidenced by her 22 boards against Barron Collier. And Frazier, another sophomore, was among the team leaders in field goals and free throw shooting this season.
Benee Glanton and Shayla Upshaw are among the other key members of the squad.
"That's what makes us dangerous," Mosca said. "There are so many good players on this team.
"They've sacrificed, they play together and they play with cause. That's what we've tried to teach them. And that's what makes them a success."
Rod Gipson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.