The championship teams in Class 3A the past two seasons have had one thing in common - a superstar leader.
Think of Miami Gulliver Prep's Sylvia Fowles in 2004 and Miami Monsignor Pace's Marquita Adley in 2005. They were high-profile players who led their teams to titles and now are playing for Division I programs (Fowles at Louisiana State and Adley at Florida International).
Now comes St. Petersburg Catholic, a team in the truest sense of the word.
The Barons are in the state final not because they hang on to the coattails of some talented superstar who can bail them out in key situations, but because they have a collection of hardworking players who check their ego at the door and don't mind sharing the load.
"We have players who don't care who is leading us in stats," St. Petersburg Catholic coach Nick Vandewalle said. "On any given night, someone different will lead in scoring. It might not always be pretty, but they get the job done."
Even if you don't find the Barons' grind-it-out style to be the most entertaining, it's impossible not to respect the faithful, earnest way that they play.
SPC (28-2) beat Gulliver Prep in the semifinals by playing brilliant swarming team defense, double- and triple-teaming the Raiders' best players, De'sha Mosley and Elisa Carey, at the same time.
"(The Barons) were everywhere," Raiders coach Kristin Lovell said. "They played great defense and showed their experience. They used their height to their advantage and their long arms and pressure took a toll."
SPC's title hopes start with Robin Link (6-foot-3) and Katie Keegan (6-0), players whose physical dominance allow guards Shannon McElhaney, Kate Carl, Holly Janicki, Anna Keegan and others to thrive.
It doesn't end there. Sasha Chaplin, a 6-foot-3 transfer from Admiral Farragut, played a key role off the bench in the semifinals. With Link in foul trouble, Chaplin did the work inside, scoring a team-high 14 and leading all players with 17 rebounds.
"That's the way it is with this team," Link said. "We all work together and there's great chemistry. If someone is having an off night or in trouble, someone else will step up. We don't mind sharing. That's because we're all like sisters."
To win the school's first state title, the Barons will have to defend and rebound at one end of the floor, then move the ball crisply and set screens to free up each other for open shots at the other.
"We need to keep doing what we've been doing," Vandewalle said.
SPC will be doing it even though two players are hindered by injuries. Carl and Janicki both have slight meniscus tears and could see limited playing time.
"They're both be out there, but they'll be a step slower," Vandewalle said.
No problem. With their selfless style, the Barons have struck a blow for teamwork, for the concept of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts.
"We'll all stick together and pull through," Link said. "We'll be ready."
WHERE: Lakeland Center.
CLASS 3A SEMIFINAL
WHO: St. Petersburg Catholic (28-2) vs. Tallahassee Florida High (29-5).
WHEN: 3:30 p.m., today.
HOW THEY GOT HERE: St. Petersburg Catholic beat Sarasota Cardinal Mooney 58-20, Melbourne Central Catholic 65-44, Academy of the Holy Names 48-43 and Miami Gulliver Prep 40-28. Florida High beat Jacksonville Episcopal 59-16, Santa Rosa Beach South Walton 63-29, Chipley 61-57 and Gainesville P.K. Yonge 75-55.
Orlando First Academy 70, Marathon 31
Tallahassee North Florida Christian 65, Ponce de Leon 55
Final, noon Saturday
Orlando Bishop Moore 73, Pensacola 55
Titusville Astronaut 51, Naples 40
Final, 3:30 Saturday
Miami Norland 54,
Hollywood South Broward 44
Lake Mary 39, Orlando Boone 29
Final, 7 p.m. Saturday