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Prospects are looking up for St. Petersburg Catholic

Time stops. People stare.

How tall is that girl?

Really?

How tall?

So it goes for St. Petersburg Catholic's Robin Link, oh, about three times a day. The 6-foot-3 senior center answers every question about her height and laughs at every joke.

"I get that a lot more when I'm out and about," Link said. "I'm tall. Nothing I can do about that."

Link likes the view from up there, especially since she can see eye-to-eye with some teammates.

Katie Keegan (6-0) and Sasha Chaplin (6-3) share the frontcourt and the spotlight. The trio of towering players has helped the Barons (27-2) reach the state tournament.

"We've been blessed to not only have tall players, but ones that have coordination and skill," coach Nick Vandewalle said.

This isn't the first time the Barons have had players who loomed large. In the 1999-2000 season, Catherine DuPont, a 6-4 post player who was the Times' Player of the Year, led SPC to its last state appearance.

DuPont and two other 6-footers left after that season, which seemed to spell doom for Vandewalle. But he wasn't worried. Link and Keegan were middle-schoolers he knew were eventually coming to SPC.

They arrived in 2002 and were already 6 feet.

Their growth as players, though, has been immeasurable.

They became stronger and quicker. They worked on fundamentals. The showed they can score, rebound, pass and defend.

Moreover, Link and Keegan were at their best when it mattered most. The twin pillars led the Barons to the region semifinals their first three seasons.

"They've developed so much, skill-wise and with their desire," Vandewalle said.

Trouble was, they could never get the Barons to state.

They needed something - or someone - else.

SPC got it with the addition of Chaplin, who transferred from Admiral Farragut this season.

By adding another tall player, the three figuratively and literally had to make room for each other, a display of selflessness they shrug off.

"It was a natural process," Link said. "We knew that Sasha was a tremendous talent that would only help us. We all had our own special skills. Sasha has a soft touch on shots. Katie is so tough. I'm just a brute."

The three will have a tall challenge today. Gulliver Prep is led by 6-foot-3 Elisa Carey.

"It'll be different because we're used to playing shorter teams," Chaplin said.

The only time SPC played a team with some considerable height was Dunedin, which the Barons beat twice.

"We'll be able to match up," Vandewalle said. "We won't be shocked at all by seeing someone that tall. We've got some tall ones of our own."

ON THE WEB

The Feazell family, a fixture in Largo, is celebrating the girls basketball team's first trip to state. See www.sptimes.com.

STATE GLANCE

WHERE: Lakeland Center.

ADMISSION: $9 per session; $5 parking each day.

GETTING TO THE LAKELAND CENTER: Take Interstate 4 east to Exit 31 (Kathleen Road). Turn right on Kathleen Road and continue to Sikes Boulevard. Bear right at the yield sign and turn right at the second traffic light (Lime Street). The Lakeland Center is on the right.

CLASS 3A SEMIFINAL

WHO: St. Petersburg Catholic (27-2) vs. Miami Gulliver Prep (26-4).

WHEN: 4 p.m., today.

HOW THEY GOT HERE: St. Petersburg Catholic beat Sarasota Cardinal Mooney 58-20, Melbourne Central Catholic 65-44 and Academy of the Holy Names 48-43. Gulliver Prep beat Fort Lauderdale Archbishop Curly 50-22, Boca Raton Pope John Paul II 53-44 and West Palm Beach Cardinal Newman 44-36.

CLASS 5A SEMIFINAL

WHO: Largo (26-1) vs. Naples Barron Collier (29-2).

WHEN: 8:30 p.m., today.

HOW THEY GOT HERE: Largo beat Plant 69-45, Boca Ciega 55-40 and Lakewood 47-45 in overtime. Barron Collier beat Fort Lauderdale Dillard 62-48, Sebastian River 63-29 and Miami Jackson 53-49.

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