There was nothing anyone could say to make Anclote feel better about how last season ended for the boys basketball team. It was no use noting that the Sharks won a district title and advanced to the playoffs for just the second time in school history.
In the region quarterfinals, Anclote had the lead against Nature Coast, fell behind by double digits, then made a furious rally to get within striking distance. Twice, the Sharks missed shots in the waning seconds, including one that could have put them ahead.
Instead, Nature Coast held on for a 46-43 victory en route to an eventual state semifinal appearance.
“That one was tough,” Anclote senior forward Jakob Hester said. “We were right there. We couldn’t shoot at all that night and were still only down three at the end. I saw Nature Coast beat some teams badly in the postseason and just kept thinking that could have been us in the state semifinals.”
Heads were down. Tears flowed. The greatest boys basketball season Anclote had ever known ended with a quick postseason exit.
But the Sharks did not sulk for too long. They took solace in knowing they had a future together. All but one of the 13 players on Anclote’s current roster are seniors, including many who have played together since middle school.
They all vowed to move forward.
The painful memories of a playoff game that got away served as a powerful motivator this offseason. During the spring and summer, they remained devoted to their goals. Nearly every player was on a travel team and did extra work in the gymnasium or the weight room.
"We all worked hard to keep getting better,” senior guard Jalen Cooper said. “We’ve all played together for so long, we want to finish strong.”
Cooper introduced Hester to basketball in middle school.
“Jakob was more into baseball at the time,” Cooper said. “But he was tall (6-foot-2), so he kept talking to him about coming out for basketball until he eventually did.”
Once the two arrived at Anclote, they were given prominent roles on varsity. Both helped transform the Sharks into winners.
In college, they will remain teammates. Cooper and Hester each decided to commit to Palm Beach Atlantic.
“We push each other to get better,” Hester said. “The opportunity to play in college came about, and we felt like it would be the perfect fit to keep playing together.”
For now, the focus is on this season, their final shot to build upon the success from a year ago.
This time, Anclote is not satisfied to just reach the playoffs.
“We want to win it all,” Hester said.
The schedule could help in their quest.
Besides fulfilling conference obligations, the Sharks were able to pick up games against Haines City, Lakewood and Lehigh.
And a regular-season rematch with Nature Coast.
“We wanted to be tested so we’ll be ready for what we’ll face in the playoffs,” coach Michael Cooper said.
The only obstacle so far has been injuries. Hester sprained his meniscus and is being fitted for a brace this week. Cooper and senior Diontray Manuel are coming back from sprained ankles.
“We may not be at full strength at the start of the season,” Michael Cooper said. “That’s fine. I’m more worried about how we finish the season than the way we start it.”
Contact Bob Putnam at email@example.com. Follow @BobbyHomeTeam.