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Co-players of the year

By JAMAL THALJI, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published March 17, 2002

One's a center who used to be a point guard. The other is a born point guard, the county's best.

Regardless of their positions, Mitchell senior center Moira Gustin and Ridgewood sophomore point guard Crystal Ayers were their teams' playmakers this season.

Ayers' emergence was no surprise.

After a strong freshman year, she blossomed this season offensively and defensively, averaging 15.4 points, 3.6 assists and 4.2 steals a game while leading the Rams to the Class 4A, District 8 and Sunshine Athletic Conference titles and a playoff win.

But then, for Ayers, it's all going according to plan.

"She wants to be a professional player someday," Ridgewood coach Gary Zimmerman said. "So she has a big goal in mind, and she knows in order to achieve it she has to put in the extra time some kids her age aren't willing to do."

That means endless hours spent in practice, camps and leagues, working with her father, Goldi. It helps, of course, that Ayers is already the fastest player in the county.

"She's putting so much time into the game," Zimmerman said. "She's learning the game as it should be learned, and she goes up against quality competition. She plays against the boys all the time. She's not afraid to play anybody."

"I like playing against the boys, it makes me better," Ayers said. "And I like to talk a little trash to them, too."

Gustin used to play the point as a sophomore and junior, until coach Steve Knobl moved her to center.

Senior guard Tiffany Bronson regained her eligibility, freeing Gustin to help out the team scoring and rebounding-wise. Which she did, averaging 15.4 points and 9.7 rebounds a game as the Mustangs won a school-record 20 games and made their first playoff appearance.

But Gustin's biggest contribution was off the floor, stepping up her leadership role when guard Brittnee Williamson went down with a season-ending knee injury.

"I had to be the one to pick it up," Gustin said. "So I looked to myself to be a leader."

"Going into the year we kind of expected some good things out of her and we got that," Knobl said. But the big thing was that she really helped us when we needed it, providing different sparks whenever we needed it during the year. When we needed a basket, she was the go-to girl."

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