HOLIDAY — Ameria Christopher relished the challenge.
Despite giving up close to a half foot in height, the Wesley Chapel junior excelled in defending Tarpon Springs 5-foot-10 standout Anabel Ellison coast-to-coast at the top of the Wildcats’ aggressive box-and-one. Setting an effective tone early in Friday’s Class 4A, District 8 title contest at Anclote High, Christopher’s energy lifted the top seed to a convincing 63-48 victory.
With a 24-2 record, Wesley Chapel will host Thursday’s region playoff opener.
“I found out (Thursday I was covering Ellison) and I thought I did a pretty good job,” Christopher said modestly.
After all, with some welcome breaks when sophomore Tiara Banks took over the task, Christopher took away Ellison’s driving lanes, bodied her out of her favorite spots, fought through picks and held the frustrated Marist College commit to just seven points on 13 shots during a game-defining first half. That scoring output was still tops for the Spongers (13-9), but the Wildcats were able to surge to a 36-13 lead in the process.
“Ameria has been a defensive specialist for us,” Wesley Chapel coach Peter Livingston said. “Anabel’s a Division-I point guard and Ameria made her work. (Christopher) tired her out and really set the tone. Her stat sheet doesn’t show it (four points and two assists), but the scoreboard does.”
Thanks to a 14-point fourth quarter when Livingston backed off of the pressure, Ellison — who played all 32 minutes — finished with a game-high 27 points plus 12 rebounds, five assists and three blocked shots.
After shaking off some early nerves (“Butterflies are normal; it’s a great feeling,” said Livingston. “And if I get them, they’ll have them, too.”), the Wildcat defense sparked an unselfish transition game (16 team assists on 21 made baskets).
Stepping away from the scoring spotlight Friday, senior co-captain and season scoring leader Kayla Grant sparkled as a facilitator and rebounder. Her deft ball movement (seven assists) allowed senior co-captain Ariana Rivera-Heppenstall (team-high 16 points with three 3-pointers) along with sophomores Emari Lewis (three 3s and 14 points) and Banks (11 points) to shine while her 16 rebounds held Tarpon to numerous one-and-done possessions.
“Once we settled down, we played like we like to play — fast,” said Grant, who finished with 10 points. “We push the ball on misses and get to the lane while their defense isn’t ready. We give it all to win the game.”
“I’m happy for the seniors,” Livingston said. “That’s back-to-back conference and district championships, accomplishments that will stay with them forever. And hopefully this will help the underclassmen create a legacy of their own.”