GIRLS BASKETBALL PREVIEW: Area teams poised to improve this year

By Jordan Kroger, SunCoast Sports

All four girls public high school basketball teams in the area have one goal in common entering this season: improve.

For Charlotte, that’s advancing deeper into the regional playoffs.

For Port Charlotte, Lemon Bay and North Port, that’s just qualifying for the playoffs.

Charlotte hopes to advance deeper into the tournament this year after falling to Clearwater in the regional quarterfinals last season.

The Tarpons return a talented roster that includes two four-year starters in the backcourt in Kelyn Moses and Kayla Lamb. One player to keep an eye on is Moses’ sister, Matisyn, who has been groomed as a point guard at the junior varsity level and should back up her sister this season.

Port Charlotte will field an experienced roster that includes nine returning players. Among them are Ashlyn Henderson and Janae Dennard, both of whom started every game as freshmen in 2015-2016, and will look to make some noise in a district that also includes Charlotte and Lemon Bay.

Lemon Bay defeated Port Charlotte in the district quarterfinals last season before bowing out to Charlotte in the district semis. Four players are gone from that squad but Francesca Gallucci, Lauren Maheu and Breanna Nelson should provide a balanced offensive attack for the Manta Rays.

Dale Huffman takes over the coaching duties at North Port after Tom Tintor retired in the spring. Alexis Francavilla, who averaged a double-double as a sophomore, leads a solid starting lineup. Huffman also has high hopes for freshman point guard Emani Jefferson, who he says has “ungodly speed.”

DeSoto County just hopes to put a competitive team on the floor night in and night out and expects to be more athletic this season.
Imagine enters this season without last year’s leading scorer Katie Klein — who averaged over 16 points per game — after she had surgery in the offseason to repair a broken bone in her leg. Transfers Marlena Marra and Mary Lawrence should help provide a boost to a young team that eyes a district title.

PORT CHARLOTTE

COACH: Kevin Purcell (9th year)
LAST SEASON: 6-15, lost to Lemon Bay in district quarterfinals
DISTRICT: 7A-10; Teams: Cape Coral, Charlotte, Ida Baker, Island Coast, Lemon Bay, North Fort Myers, Port Charlotte
KEY PLAYERS LOST: N/A
KEY RETURNERS: Celia Baermann (Jr., F), Ashlyn Henderson (So., G), Janae Dennard (So., G), Gerda Guerrier (Sr., G), Sariah Dempaire (Jr., F)
KEY NEWCOMERS: N/A
OUTLOOK: The Pirates return nine players from last year’s team, including their entire starting lineup, so they should be much improved. Coach Kevin Purcell thinks his girls can surprise some teams in their district and they’ll find out early in the season. The sophomore duo in the backcourt composed of Ashlyn Henderson and Janae Dennard started every game as freshmen, and that experience should pay big dividends this season.

NORTH PORT

COACH: Dale Huffman (1st year)
LAST SEASON: 10-9; lost to Riverdale in district semifinals
DISTRICT: 7A-12; Teams: Gulf Coast, North Port, Riverdale
KEY PLAYERS LOST: KJ McKoy, Amanda Bittner
KEY RETURNERS: Alexis Francavilla (Jr., C), Aryana Hough (Jr., G), Kamryn Nazario (So., G), Nykevia Blakeney (Sr., F)
KEY NEWCOMERS: Emani Jefferson (Fr., G)
OUTLOOK: North Port is playing a schedule loaded with playoff teams from a season ago and it could arguably be the toughest in the state. Luckily for the Bobcats, they’re only in a three-team district so one win in the district tournament will send them to the playoffs. Gulf Coast is the favorite, but North Port should be able to get past Riverdale to return to the playoffs thanks to a strong starting lineup led by Alexis Francavilla, who averaged a double-double last season.

LEMON BAY

COACH: Mike Young (8th season)
LAST SEASON: 10-16, lost to Charlotte in district semifinals
DISTRICT: 7A-10; Teams: Cape Coral, Charlotte, Ida Baker, Island Coast, Lemon Bay, North Fort Myers, Port Charlotte
KEY PLAYERS LOST: Shannen Smith, Kaitlyn Dailey, Rebecca Thompson, Hope Pfannkuch
KEY RETURNERS: Breanna Nelson (Sr., G), Lauren Maheu (Jr., G), Francesca Gallucci (Jr., F), Kelsey Hansen (Sr., F), Ryan Carley (Sr., G), Dominicue Mamalis (Sr., F)
KEY NEWCOMERS: Ashlynn McGraw (Jr., F)
OUTLOOK: Lemon Bay lost four players from last year’s squad, but still has the potential to return to the district semifinals and possibly play for a district title. Coach Mike Young expects a more balanced offensive attack this season, led by Francesca Gallucci, Lauren Maheu and Breanna Nelson, to replace the losses of Shannen Smith and Kaitlyn Dailey.

CHARLOTTE

COACH: Mike Robishaw (12th year)
LAST SEASON: 17-7, lost to Clearwater in regional quarterfinals
DISTRICT: 7A-10; Teams: Cape Coral, Charlotte, Ida Baker, Island Coast, Lemon Bay, North Fort Myers, Port Charlotte
KEY PLAYERS LOST: Mykelli Taylor, Kristen McGaw (both started), Abby Matthews, Jamie Gonzalez
KEY RETURNERS: Kelyn Moses (Sr., G), Kayla Lamb (Sr., G), Michelle Bunch (Sr., F), Taylor Kirkus (Jr., F)
KEY NEWCOMERS: Matisyn Moses (So., G), Alani Qualls (So., G) (up from JV)
OUTLOOK: In the words of Coach Mike Robishaw, “We’re ready to go.” The Tarpons are poised for another playoff run, which ended early last year against Clearwater in the regional quarterfinals. Four-year starters Kelyn Moses and Kayla Lamb anchor the backcourt for Charlotte, and should help the Tarpons build on last year’s success despite the graduation of starters MyKelli Taylor and Kristen McGaw. Charlotte will be tenacious on defense, which Robishaw has emphasized to make sure last year’s disappointing end doesn’t repeat itself.

DESOTO COUNTY

COACH: Joe Davis (6th year)
LAST SEASON: 0-20
DISTRICT: 6A-10; Teams: Booker, DeSoto County, Hardee, Lake Wales, Sebring
KEY PLAYERS LOST: Shaderra Daley (W/F)
KEY RETURNERS: Titeona Hatcher (Jr., PG), Shaterrica Luther (Sr., F), Janine Lorraine (Sr., F)
KEY NEWCOMERS: Aleaha Richardson (So, W), Shamiya Harris (So, F)
OUTLOOK: Last year was a tough one for the Bulldogs but they should be a lot more athletic than they were last season. They lack shooting on the outside but plan to make up for it by getting out and running on the fast break. Coach Joe Davis expects a more entertaining season.

IMAGINE

COACH: Robert Toth (3rd year)
LAST SEASON: 9-12, lost to Evangelical Christian in district semifinals
DISTRICT: 3A-5; Teams: Bradenton Christian, Imagine, Saint Stephen’s Episcopal, Sarasota Christian, The Out-of-Door Academy
KEY PLAYERS LOST: Katie Klein (injured, likely out for season)
KEY RETURNERS: Arianna Andrade (Fr., G), Kayle Christie (So.,
KEY NEWCOMERS: Marlena Marra (Sr., G/F), Mary Lawrence (So., F)
OUTLOOK: The Sharks suffered a big loss when Katie Kelin had surgery to repair a broken bone in her leg that she’s been dealing with for two seasons due to a misdiagnosis. But the additions of transfers Marlena Marra, from North Port, and Mary Lawrence, from Community Christian, will be a boost for a young squad that has seven high school players and three middle school players. Coach Robert Toth believes a district title is a realistic goal.

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