Nine girls basketball teams are poised and ready for the Class 3A,District 7 tournament to begin at Land O'Lakes High School.
But the biggest news before the first tipoff is who will not be on the court.
Each of the top two-seeded teams, Land O'Lakes and Hernando, will
apparently miss the services of a key player because of injury. Those
misfortunes are enough to inspire the lower seeds and kindle a few upset hopes.
The Gators, ranked first in the district with a 15-3 record not counting tournament play, will be without point guard Tammy Campbell.
The shifty senior with a 16.2 points-per-game average is nursing torn ligaments in her left ankle. Land O'Lakes (18-4 overall) finished its season with an eight-game winning streak but struggled to a 41-35 victory over the 2-14 South Sumter Raiders in the regular season finale.
Hernando, the No.2 seed, has played the past two weeks without senior guard Robin Adkins. She is out for an indefinite period with a dislocated shoulder. The Leopards limped in with a 20-4 overall record and a season-ending 41-29 loss to Ridgewood.
Those injuries could be lucky breaks for low-rated teams in the field.
"It could be anybody," said Jim Bavetta, head coach of No.4-seeded Ridgewood. "There are probably five teams that have a shot at it. Usually, one or two have a shot.
"This year, everything is well balanced. Nobody has really dominated this year as far as 20- or 30-point wins are concerned."
The lack of any clear-cut favorite adds more importance to tonight's opening game. Gulf and Springstead, tied for the No.8 seeding with 5-14 records, play at 7 p.m. The winner meets Land O'Lakes as part of a four-game lineup that begins at 2 p.m. on Thursday.
Semifinals are scheduled for Friday at 6 and 7:30 p.m. The championship game will be played Saturday at 7 p.m. The highest-seeded team that has not been hit by injuries is Citrus. The Hurricanes are seeded third and have recent experience against the tournament's top seeds. Citrus lost to Hernando 40-34 on Tuesday of last week and beat Land O'Lakes 56-34 on Thursday.
Citrus coach Bruce Nelson said: "We lost one close game and beat the other team, so I think it gives us some momentum. We have as good a chance as anybody."
Players to watch in the tournament include the leading scorer in the district, Tara O'Connor of sixth-seeded Hudson (6-17). O'Connor averaged 20.8 points per game for the Cobras this season. Sharron Washington of Springstead (16.4 scoring average), Claudine Hawkins of Land O'Lakes (15.2) and Gulf's Crystal Blatchley (13.9) are integral to their teams' success.
- Correspondent Terry Organ contributed to this report.