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Youth, injuries still hurt Knights

After River Ridge went 5-20 last season, coach Al Sorrentino chalked it up to the growing pains of a new, inexperienced crew.

But now that the Royal Knights are 3-11 this season, Sorrentino doesn't want to dredge up the same old excuses.

"Last year I went through the same thing, we were young, we were waiting for experience," Sorrentino said. "I don't know if that's an excuse anymore."

But there's no denying River Ridge still finds itself with a young roster this season, one that is even younger after losing its best junior to a season-ending injury two weeks ago.

For a consecutive season, power forward Melissa Kurzweil is out with a serious knee injury. Thursday she had surgery for a torn left anterior cruciate ligament and meniscus. Last season she suffered a similar season-ending injury to her right knee.

"Melissa was somebody on the varsity team as a freshman we saw with a ton of potential," Sorrentino said. "But the last two years she has just been snake-bitten with injuries.

"We thought she was one of our top three players going into the season."

She has been replaced by 6-1 freshman Brittany Remial, which leads back to the youth problem. Three other starters are sophomores: twins Ryane and Lauren Hille at shooting and point guard, respectively, and small forward Ashleigh Reams.

UNFINISHED BUSINESS: At 10-4, with a 3-0 record in the three-team Class 5A, District 5 race, Land O'Lakes is sitting pretty for a return to the playoffs.

But that isn't enough for coach Greg Robinson's Gators.

Not with two big road losses to county foes to avenge this season. Wednesday, Land O'Lakes can avenge a Dec. 9 51-43 loss to Sunshine Athletic Conference rival Ridgewood. Then on Feb. 3, it's a rematch against Pasco, which beat the Gators on Dec. 16.

The Gators haven't beaten the Rams since 2002, when they ended Ridgewood's three-year county winning streak. But Pasco County's reigning champions are on another tear. As for Pasco, the Pirates beat the Gators for the first time in Robinson's three-year tenure.

They may both be nondistrict games, with no playoff implications, but they still loom large for Land O'Lakes' psyche.

"It's not as big as it's been because of the (new) district," Robinson said. "But in the head it's still a big game. It's just those are the kind of teams you want to beat."

Robinson said Pasco has actually eclipsed Ridgewood as Land O'Lakes' most bitter SAC rival. Roshaunda Washington, who is averaging more than 20 points, scored one in the loss to the Pirates, and her team shot 23 percent from the field.

"That's not one of the nights you want to have an off night on," Robinson said.

A RECORD NIGHT: All Ridgewood point guard Crystal Ayers needs tonight at Tarpon Springs is 11 points to tie the school's all-time career scoring record.

Alayna Sherwood set the record of 1,423 in 2001. Ayers could have set the record several games ago and perhaps have done it at home in Tuesday night's 73-45 SAC win over Mitchell.

If she were solely concerned about herself, that is.

But Ayers isn't, and the two-time SAC player of the year is averaging 16 points this season. She could be scoring much more, coach Greg Bollinger said, if the San Jose State recruit wasn't concentrating more on getting all her teammates involved. Seven Rams teammates average at least 3.5 points or more.

"She's averaging 16 points a game, and you might say that's not very good for her," Bollinger said. "But she's getting everyone else involved, she's improving their stats.

"If you gave her a choice between having the record or winning and going a long way (in the playoffs), she'd rather go far in the playoffs. And she knows to do that, she has to get other people involved."

_ JAMAL THALJI

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