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BASKETBALL // BOCA CIEGA

He lost four starters from a team that won the Class 5A state title the past two seasons. But Boca Ciega girls basketball coach Harry Elifson can't stifle a grin.

Heck, he isn't even trying.

"At Boca Ciega, we're greedy," Elifson said, the words pouring forth. "We want to get our fifth district title in a row, and we want to get our fourth (Pinellas County Athletic Conference) title in a row, and we want to win our third state title."

And the young, but talented Pirates will keep thinking that way "until we get knocked off the pedestal," he said.

Another grin.

Truth is, Elifson can't wait until somebody tries.

That's the way it is at Boca Ciega. Everybody wants a piece of the Pirates. And that goes for the boys program, too.

For years, Boca Ciega has had the kind of basketball program that many schools envy. The boys have won 80 percent of their games in the 1990s, and the girls have equaled that percentage throughout their history, dating to the 1970s.

Together, the girls and boys have won three state titles since 1994. Each has won three PCAC titles during the past four seasons. The girls have a staggering streak of 70 consecutive county victories, 66 in the PCAC.

This is not to say the Pirates automatically will have the best teams in Pinellas County this year.

The other teams in District 10 _ especially Lakewood, Dixie Hollins and Northeast _ are likely to give the boys fits. And the Bogie girls will be the subject of far less preseason hoopla than Clearwater, which returns its best players from a team that reached the state semifinal last season.

But all around Pinellas, teams always take special pride in beating Boca Ciega. When they can, that is.

"A unique situation

David White. Rodney Chatman. Mike Harvey. Fernando Maynor. Dain Brown.

They are just some of the players who helped Boca Ciega's boys become a basketball force in Pinellas and around the state. And that's what it has come down to over the years, coach Randy Shuman said.

Players.

"We've been fortunate to have some very good players that just love to play the game," said Shuman, starting his eighth season at Boca Ciega. "They're very coachable. They'll run through a brick wall for you. It's a unique situation. You don't get that everywhere."

The players have been helping the Pirates win steadily since the late 1970s. Under coach Ken Robinson (1977-87), Bogie won the Class 3A state title for the 1985-86 season and went 214-80 (72 percent).

The Pirates had two losing seasons in the late 1980s, but for the past six years they have averaged 24 victories. Brown helped lead them to a state title in 1994. Though they haven't always won championships, they always are competitive.

Shuman won't take all the credit. In addition to the hard work and the high expectations that come with playing for Boca Ciega, luck has played a part in its success.

"We're fortunate to have one of the premier players every year," Shuman said.

This year's version is 6-foot-5 senior David Ross, who will sign with the University of South Carolina today. Shuman believes Ross should be mentioned among the best players in 5A and around the state.

The players around Ross are young and will need his leadership.

"We've got a lot of new faces," Shuman said. "It's going to be interesting to see how they react when things heat up."

"We expect a lot'

The Boca Ciega girls have hit the practice courts with a new team. But an old attitude prevails.

Elifson, also in his eighth season with the Pirates, demands plenty from his players.

"Nobody outworks us," he said. "We work hard and we have fun. We expect a lot out of them."

Akita Heatly, certainly among the best players in state history, has graduated. So have most of the talented crew around her that helped produce consecutive state titles: Angie Williams, Crystal Worlds, Erica Kirkendall.

Only starter Aimee Sodenkamp, a junior guard, is back, as are reserves Monique Heatly and Shantae Jackson. But the Pirates have added gifted 6-3 freshman Tia Miller, 6-2 junior Alison Lamb and sophomore guard Amanda Pryor, an accomplished ballhandler who transferred from California.

The experience may not be there, but the talent is, Elifson said. That's why he said the many teams with the intent on ending Bogie's three-year-plus county winning streak should beware.

"We're prime for cooking," Elifson said. "That's just human nature. But we ain't going down without a fight.

"Everyone thought when Akita was gone we'd go down the tubes. Nah."

Elifson grinned again, wider this time.

PIRATES PAST

A glance at Boca Ciega's basketball success:

BOYS: State titles in 1986 (3A) and 1994 (4A). Six consecutive winning seasons. 80 percent winning percentage in the 1990s. Three PCAC titles in past four seasons.

GIRLS: State titles in 1995 (5A) and 1996 (5A). 80 percent winning percentage since 1970s. Three PCAC titles in past four seasons. 70 consecutive victories against Pinellas County opponents.

GIRLS TEAMS TO WATCH

CLEARWATER: The Tornadoes have three of the top players in the county and return almost everyone from last year's state final four team.

BOCA CIEGA: The defending state champion will rebuild around junior guard Aimee Sodenkamp and 6-3 freshman Tia Miller.

NORTHSIDE CHRISTIAN: Alison Mathews and Brianne Harrington, who led the Mustangs to state final four, are back.

DUNEDIN: Sophomore Tina Gillems leads county's most underrated program.

ST. PETERSBURG: Green Devils forgotten last year because they were ousted by Clearwater in playoffs _ but Latonia Walker and Sarah Vollbracht can be deadly.

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