CLEARWATER — It took exactly 16 minutes for Allen Williams to figure out this year’s girls basketball team was much different from last year.
In a preseason game against Lakewood, Clearwater was having trouble breaking the Spartans’ press in the first half. And when they did, they had a hard time making baskets.
Williams, in his second year as Clearwater head coach, went 21-3 last year. There was senior leadership in Carrie Lee, Alleyah Williams, Adriana West and Hannah Maxwell. The players knew their roles and advanced all the way to the Class 7A region semifinals.
The Tornadoes couldn’t lean on that knowledge this season.
“Absolutely,” he said. “We don’t have the pieces that we did last year. We were a lot deeper and we had designated positions. This year, in the first five or six games, we were just playing on the fly. We had to figure out who was going to play where.”
That’s not to say Clearwater has taken a step back. The Tornadoes were 14-1 entering the week and haven’t missed a step in Class 7A, District 9. But the tweaks have been ongoing.
One of the biggest changes came at point guard. Senior Olivia Jones spent her first three years mainly as a forward/center who got baskets in the paint. But Williams put her at guard in the second half of that preseason game against Lakewood and she has been there ever since.
“She is the only one who could break the press,” Williams said. “Now she doesn’t come off the court.”
That’s fine with her.
“I don’t mind it,” Jones said. “I think I see the court pretty well and I like to get my teammates involved.”
Teammates like junior D’Mya Ferguson, who transferred from Clearwater Central Catholic last season. Ferguson provides a big presence inside and is an above-average rebounder.
Pinellas Park transfer Alexzadria Head has taken over the shooting guard role. And freshman Iyanna George has also proven to be a sharp-shooter from the outside.
“Iyanna has played a very big part in our success,” Williams said.
Although there are new players as well as returners at new positions, the results have been the same for Clearwater. The lone loss came at the Tampa Bay Christmas tournament over the holiday break.
In the second game of the season, the Tornadoes needed overtime to defeat district rival Northeast. From then on, they have not really been challenged by local teams. In fact, last week Clearwater beat Dunedin 71-22, Palm Harbor University 67-9 and Osceola 102-2. Yes, 102-2.
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“I really wasn’t trying to do that,” Williams said. “I put my girls back to half court.”
Things are sure to get more difficult for Clearwater in the coming weeks. The regular season ends with games against Carrollwood Day (ranked second in Class 4A by MaxPreps) and at Seffner Christian (fourth in 4A). Then comes the district tournament and likely a region semifinal rematch with Fort Myers, which won 71-37 last season.
“They killed us,” Williams said. “And we’ll have to go to their place if we get there.”
It’s a different team but so far it has been the same result for Clearwater. As the season has gone on, the Tornadoes have gotten better.
“At first I wasn’t sure about this team, but now that we’ve played together I think our confidence gets higher and higher,” Jones said. “Everyone has come together and we are more comfortable with each other.”