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Crystal River is out to prove that youth is no excuse.
After a 1-5 start, the Pirates have won three straight to boost their record to 4-5. Crystal River opened its run with an upset of then-undefeated Citrus before the break, then beat Seven Rivers Christian and Jacksonville Providence in the Lecanto Holiday Classic this weekend.
Coach Brent Hall said his team is starting to make a name for itself.
"It's exciting to watch," Hall said. "We're finally starting to understand everything and work together."
With underclassmen such as Setera Lockley, Amber Clark, Ja'Vonna Grimsley and Ashley Bullion playing key roles, Hall expects the improvement to continue. Senior Casandra Vega has continued to produce offensively.
"I was hoping by the time we got back from Christmas break we'd be able to run everything we want to run," Hall said. "We're almost there, but we're still very impatient on offense."
Crystal River plays at Dunnellon on Wednesday.
LECANTO: After going 2-0 in its own tournament, Lecanto improved to 5-6. The Panthers have been helped by the emergence of freshman forward Tara Haddock and the return of junior guard Shannon Haas.
"It's just getting all those kids involved so they can contribute," coach Ron Allan said. "Shannon missed the first 5-6 games because of an ankle injury and is just now getting into playing shape. Tara was an unknown quantity coming in."
Allan said his past teams have been successful when one person averaged about 10 points and everyone else was in the 5-6-point range. Senior Cortney Stewart has been the offensive leader this season, but she has plenty of help from her teammates.
SEVEN RIVERS CHRISTIAN: The Warriors were 6-4 entering Monday's game with Hernando, having had no time to practice following two losses in the Panther Classic.
The week doesn't get much easier. On Thursday, Seven Rivers faces a Central Florida Christian squad that went 26-6 last season and lost to final four-bound Oak Hall in the Sweet 16. The Warriors have been trying to make do without sophomore Rachel Ebert, who has been hampered by a deep bruise on the arch of her right foot. She was not expected to play Monday.
"It hurts us not having Ebert out there," coach Brian Ludwick said. "She wants to play, but she's just not herself."
That means standouts Danielle Albury (14 points, 11.5 rebounds) and Lacey Lyons (14 points, 9.5 rebounds) will be counted on even more. On Friday, Seven Rivers plays West Oaks Academy at Crystal River Middle School.
CITRUS: Tonight, the 13-2 Hurricanes take on Class 3A, District 6 rival Williston for the second time this season. Citrus beat Williston earlier. The 'Canes haven't played since a Dec. 28 loss to Stuart Martin County in the Ocala Forest Holiday Tournament final. Coach Bruce Nelson said it was an accomplishment to go 2-1, although in the last game the Hurricanes were without both starting guards. Point guard Katie Steelfox left for Connecticut, and fellow senior Alycia LePage was in North Carolina and didn't play the entire tourney.
"We're playing the best team in the tournament other than us, and we're playing two short and were tired," Nelson said. "I was proud of the kids for standing up to the competition short-handed. A team is about unity, and when you lose one, the chain kind of breaks down a little bit. But they stood up to adversity."
Though players such as Nicole Parsons, Brittney Doyle, Alexsia Love and Jorlene White stepped up, Nelson said he never wants to be without a full lineup again.