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Patton is Terps' on-court general

For a moment, coach Carol Chalu considered what life would be like without Jolene Patton. . . .

The coach appeared as if a migraine was setting in, and then with furrowed brow said, "Jolene is someone we definitely

can't do without; and that's not just because of her attacking. It's because of her disposition, her mental strength, her leadership."

Tampa Prep without Jolene Patton? Shoot, the Terrapins could conceivably not make it to the state final four without Patton. And that would be historic, indeed. Tampa Prep has at least made it to the state final in 15 of the past 20 years.

The good news for the Terrapins is that Patton, a 5-foot-11 outside hitter (and the only senior still playing), has never felt better as she leads her team into tonight's Class 2A, South II regional at Miami Dade Christian.

"I want to go down there and beat those teams and show them what Tampa Prep is all about," Patton said. "I can't wait."

Tampa Prep (22-5) meets North Palm Beach Benjamin at 5 p.m., with the winner of that match taking on the Miami Dade Christian-Miami Westminster winner at 7.

Tampa Prep is the prohibitive favorite, and that's without its only other senior, Kayla Johnson, who is gone for the season with a torn ACL.

"With Kayla out I have even more responsibility," Patton said. "But I don't mind. I like the pressure. I want to be the go-to person."

Patton said she prefers to hit from the right side, but she's proven she can hit from any point on the court, and can also set and dig a ball with equal agility.

Chalu added that she's watched Patton play since she was little, and she's never seen her get nervous in any situation. Never.

"She is so comfortable and knowledgeable with the game that she doesn't even need to think about what she's doing on the court," Chalu said. "She just does it naturally, instinctively. Some of the other girls on this team don't have that instinct yet because they're inexperienced. But Jolene has it."

When you add all this up you get a Division I prospect. Patton said she is considering several schools but probably won't make a decision until the spring. Right now, her focus another state title.

"Tampa Prep has a tradition to keep going and it's very important to me," Patton said. "So I'm eager to get in there and start playing and doing whatever I can to help us win."

Life without Jolene Patton?

"I don't even like to think about it," Chalu said.