The shadow cast by Wesley Chapel's greatest girls basketball player has finally faded.
Regardless of tonight's outcome against talented Tampa Bay Tech, there's nothing left to prove. Warren Jones has shown he can coach Wesley Chapel without Sthefany Thomas, and the Wildcats have proved they don't need her to win.
The Wildcats drove the ball right at Land O'Lakes on Saturday to punctuate a 47-39 win Saturday for their third consecutive district title. But throughout the season the Wildcats and their coach still feel the snub.
"We didn't get any respect," Jones said after Saturday's victory. "We were the No. 1 seed coming in here. We were the conference champs, but you wouldn't think so. Those girls knew that."
When Jones considers this season's accomplishments, the first thing he mentions is the scholarship offers five of his seniors have received to play college basketball. Many plan to wait until after the season to sort out those plans, but the offers are a testament to the program's success.
Jones took over a program that went 0-51 at its inception and was a .500 team the season before he took over in 2004. Four years later, Jones has three consecutive 20-win seasons and is two wins shy of matching the school's single-season record set last year.
After last season, Jones said the girls were in the gym the day after a 70-56 loss to Lake Gibson in the program's first region final.
"They knew this year everyone was going to disrespect them," Jones said. "They had to be prepared because they knew the obstacles they would face. They were ready for that challenge."
The key for Wesley Chapel has been balance. With Thomas, now a Clemson freshman, it was often her show. This year's group is led by Ashley Carey (10.1 ppg), Caitlin Deboer (9.0), Cree McIver (8.5 ppg), Jeani Ducos (8.1 ppg) and Desiree Vizcaino (7.9 ppg).
"I don't have one player that's better than the other," Jones said. "I've got five or six of them."
Izzy Gould can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 580-5315.
Girls region quarterfinals
All games tonight at 7
Tampa Bay Tech (25-2) at Wesley Chapel (22-4)
Land O'Lakes (24-3) at Freedom (20-7)
Skinny: Wesley Chapel won its third consecutive district title with a 47-39 win over Land O'Lakes on Saturday. The Wildcats have won six straight but face a tough Tampa Bay Tech team. The Titans had a nine-game win streak snapped by Freedom last weekend. They are led by Andrea Bridges (13.4 ppg) and Dee Davis (10.2 ppg). The Gators met twice after the Wesley Chapel loss, the second time to quietly celebrate not having to face TBT. Of course, Freedom presents its own problems, having won four in a row led by Charlet Davis (16.4 ppg). The Gators counter with the Keough sisters, Kayli (19.1 ppg) and Meghan (12.7 ppg).
Gulf (19-9) at Orlando Bishop Moore (23-4)
Kissimmee Poinciana (24-3) at Nature Coast (23-5)
Skinny: The Sharks won their third district title in four years with a 47-36 win over Gulf last weekend. Nature Coast has won 10 in a row, its second-longest win streak of the season. The Sharks are led by the dangerous duo of Cherikhan Waddy (12.3 ppg) and Shareka Maner (11.7 ppg).
Hernando Christian (15-7) at Lake Mary Prep (18-9)
Academy at the Lakes (10-8) at Sarasota Out-of-Door (15-9)
Skinny: Hernando Christian and Academy at the Lakes make their first appearance in regionals.