Dynasty is becoming a fitting word to describe Gulf’s run over the past decade. With eight postseason berths and seven district titles in the past 10 years, the Buccaneers have shown no signs of slowing.
Gulf captured another district crown Friday, beating Land O’Lakes 57-38 at home in the Class 5A-8 final.
“It means a lot to carry on the tradition because I have so much of pride in our school and respect for (former coach) Mike Quarto,” Gulf coach Clare Ennis said. “These girls come in and work hard every day. As a school and a community, we have a lot of support. We had full stands tonight. It’s a level of pride.”
Early jitters led to the Gators (20-4) taking an 8-5 lead in the first quarter.
“Our intensity and our focus changed,” Ennis said. “Even though we’ve been here before, most of our starters hadn’t been the focal point in a district title game. Once they settled in, everything was different.”
Then things changed drastically. The score was 27-18 by halftime and the Buccaneers (22-3) stretched the lead until the final horn.
Land O’Lakes hung with Gulf in the first regular-season meeting, falling 33-30. Things became more convincing the second time around with the Buccaneers winning 48-30. Those contests might have provided some information for the Gators, who started in a zone defense to try to limit Gulf standout Kayla Kivinski.
The defense then switched to man-to-man before eventually trying to double-team Gulf’s leading scorer. But the Gators could not contain Kivinski and senior teammates Jalena Hawkins and Shaidal McCray.
The victory sets the stage for Gulf’s return to the state playoffs, where the Buccaneers are 8-7 in the past decade, never having advanced past the region finals. Ennis is trying some new things.
“We’re playing this season in chapters,” Ennis said. “Coach K (Mike Krzyzewski) at Duke wrote a book about setting up small goals for each chapter of the season. These girls come to work and ready to achieve every day.”