It took a week for a compilation of area high school players to gel as a team, but by the end the girls played well enough to win the Police Athletic League National Championship.
The Pinellas County Sheriff's PAL girls 16 and under basketball team traveled to Cocoa Beach last week to compete in the national tournament. The Pinellas County PAL team won 58-41 against Hollywood, Fla., a team it lost to by 13 earlier in the tournament, in the final game June 28. Danielle Kostacky, a forward for Seminole, led all scorers in the championship game with 18.
"For a group of girls that have never played together, they did an outstanding job," said coach Dave Swanson, who coaches Seminole's girls team.
Swanson, a deputy sheriff and school resource officer, compiled players mostly from area schools: Diane Barnes, Osceola; Alli Fogle, Seminole; Bryttany Gant, Dixie Hollins; Keidra Harvey, Seminole; Danielle Kostacky, Clearwater; Amanda Kostacky, Clearwater; and Chelsea Patterson, Seminole. Brittany Denson, a 6-foot-2 center from Orlando, also played.
The team played six games through the week, getting better with each, Swanson said. Despite losing two games early, the Pinellas team avenged both losses.
"We had our work cut out for us," said assistant coach Dave Morgan, the girls coach at Dixie Hollins, adding that he was surprised by the level of competition. "We were playing a whole lot better as the week went on. I think the team essentially came together as a unit.
The Pinellas County Sheriff's PAL program is two years old, and this was its first time sending a girls team to nationals. The national tournament is open to all PAL teams. Five teams competed in the tournament, four from Florida and one from New Jersey.