The Sickles girls' basketball team relied on experience, leadership and hustle to post their best record ever.
For the seniors who led Sickles girls' basketball to its best season ever, winning is a relatively new phenomenon. As freshmen, everybody seemed to beat them.
But this year the Gryphons closed out their third season under head coach Jackie Metroka with a 25-2 record. They won the Leto Holiday Classic, the Western Conference and, for the second year in a row, the district championship.
Sickles made it into the regional championships before falling to Venice and ending their state run.
Leading the charge this year were seniors Renea Phelps, Keri Nadar, Ariel Northrop, Denisha Crawford, Amri Diaz, Kelly Henderson, Lauren Weisberg, Mercedes Brown and Kietti Gantt.
Michelle MacDonald, the only junior on the team, and sophomores Tasha Ross, Stephanie Haney and Heather Fortner carried part of the load this season and will be carrying most of the load next year.
With a career total of 1,497 points at the end of the year, Phelps became the school's all-time leading scorer. The Times Player of the Year for Hillsborough County, she averaged 19.4 points, 8.8 rebounds and 2.9 steals in the 27 games.
"Renea and Keri have been team captains the past two years and will really be missed next season," Metroka said. "Both are being recruited by several good colleges in the state and out. They were good leaders on the court vocally and by positive examples."
Nadar led the team in assists with 121 for the season. She also expanded her example into academics, as her induction into the National Honor Society demonstrated.
Northrop was a transfer from Land O' Lakes High. She was the team's perimeter specialist, recording a 39 percent success rate shooting from the three-point range.
She, too, has been offered several opportunities for college scholarships.
Crawford lettered in basketball in the past three seasons and has been recruited for track also. She was the fastest player on the team and, as a hurdler, had the best leaping ability.
She has chosen the University of Florida as the college where she will complete her education and finish her amateur career, unless she goes on to try out for the U.S. Olympic team.
Diaz, a defensive specialist, missed much of the season with injuries, but contributed to the successful season. Gantt played for the first time this year and shares her time as a member of the Sickles band.
Henderson and Weisberg both moved to Tampa last year as juniors and contributed in games and in practice. Off court, Henderson volunteers her time to help coach younger players off campus.
Both Henderson and Weisberg are members of the National Honor Society.
Ross was the only non-senior to start for the Gryphons, but she set a pace for her older teammates to look up to.
She was the only player to record a double-double or set statistics of double digits in more than one phase of the game. Ross averaged 11 points and 14 rebounds per game.
"Tasha was a big plus for us this year, especially on the post," Metroka said. "She has great leaping ability, which helps her grab the rebounds. She should be our "go-to' person next season."
Fortner and Haney moved up from the junior varsity team and helped as active reserves. They will be counted on heavily next season, Metroka said.