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Rough, tough Titans have a soft side

Tampa Bay Tech's success this season is based on two things: love and friendship.

By EMILY NIPPS, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 3, 2002

TAMPA -- Meet the warmest, fuzziest team in Hillsborough County.

TAMPA -- Meet the warmest, fuzziest team in Hillsborough County.

Sure, the Tampa Bay Tech Titans don't look cuddly when they're elbowing opponents out of the way to get to the ball, and their defense is plain ruthless.

They hold the county's best record (20-2) and are getting stronger as the season continues.

But don't let their rough play fool you. There's a soft side to the Titans. "We love each other," guard Rebekkah Barnes said. "We're like sisters. We talk to each other on the phone -- all of us."

"When I came here (this year), I was kind of scared because I didn't know anybody," said forward Chichi Okpaleke, who transferred from Bradenton Southeast. "Now I feel like we have all known each other for years."

Considering the obstacles that usually face a team with a first-year coach, a new star player (Okpaleke) and a set of twins (Rebekkah and Naomi Barnes) who led their last team (Hillsborough), the Titans' chemistry is unusual. What could have been a disaster turned out to be the best thing to ever happen to Tech girls basketball.

"It's incredible, really," coach Heather Glezen said. "It definitely makes a difference that they're all so close.

"That's what I try to teach them, is that we're a team, a family. Whether it's tutoring or spending time together after school, they try to be there for each other. After school, they don't go home, they hang out."

Last year, there was a handful of fans at the Titans' games, coinciding with the handful of games the team won.

This season, the Titans have their parents, grandparents, friends, alumni and college scouts filling the stands. They even have their own chants: "Tech got dat juice" and "Who house? Our house!"

That's not the sound of love for a really nice team of girls. That's the sound of 20 wins.

Okpaleke is among the top scorers in the county with 18 points per game and five rebounds. Rebekkah Barnes is a quick and accurate 3-point shooter, and Jasmine McLeod and Dallas McNeal are tough on defense.

On Wednesday, the Titans will begin competing for a Class 4A, District 9 title against the winner of Tuesday's Jefferson-Armwood game.

To reach Saturday's championship game, some of the county's best teams will have to be defeated. Brandon, which has the county's No. 1 scorer, Kiana Robinson, will likely give Tech some trouble, as could Blake or Armwood.

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