"All I can say is this is the little school that could. They have more kids absent in one day than we have in our whole school." - KARIM NOHRA, Cambridge girls coach after the Lancers defeated Armwood 53-50.
Every good team has a recognizable face, the player who is feared. Academy of the Holy Names has two. Well, two of the same face, if that counts. Freshmen guards Gianna and Catriana Messina, who are twins, have quickly stepped up as the Jaguars' newest threat and have boosted a budding team that starts two freshmen and two sophomores. Catriana averages 13.4 points, and Gianna is the team's leading rebounder at 6.8 per game. "They play with a lot of emotion, and it's a lot of fun coaching them," first-year coach Casey Higgins said. "I put a lot of pressure on them." With such a young crew, Higgins said, it's hard to single out any players as leaders yet. Sophomore point guard Dana Esposito was brought up from junior varsity to help lead the team, and senior starter Kristen Prado brings invaluable experience to the court. "No players are really better than the others," Higgins said. "We're a small team, only eight players, so I expect a lot from players one through eight." The Jaguars are 10-3 and have beaten St. Petersburg Catholic, Lake Gibson and, most impressively, Cambridge.
MEET JEREMY BLACK
Blake's 6-foot-6 senior center averages 15 points and 14 rebounds. NICKNAME: Big Black
ZODIAC SIGN: Scorpio
FAVORITE NBA PLAYER: Shaquille O'Neal
FAVORITE FOOD: Oreos
BEDTIME: 11:30 p.m.
IF I WON THE LOTTERY, THE FIRST THING I'D DO IS: Go shopping and buy lots and lots of shoes
DREAM JOB: Surgeon
SIBLINGS: Four sisters (one deceased) and two brothers. I'm the youngest.
DREAM COLLEGE: University of Tampa
THE TOP FIVE (BOYS)
1. Brandon (12-3)
2. Berkeley Prep (11-2)
3. Tampa Bay Tech (9-3)
4. Riverview (9-3)
5. Hillsborough (11-4)
BLANCO MAKES HER MARK
Leto senior Yarenis Blanco reached the 1,000-point career milestone last month against Sickles. She did it emphatically, scoring 40 in the 70-49 victory. Heading into the game, she needed one point to reach the mark. Blanco joins Tampa Bay Tech senior forward Chi Chi Okpaleke in reaching the accomplishment this season. Other players who have scored 1,000 in the past are Gaither's Elaine Evans, Wharton's Candace Dupree and Academy of the Holy Names' Danielle Darby.
THE TOP FIVE (GIRLS)
1. Tampa Bay Tech (15-1)
2. Bloomingdale (12-3)
3. Cambridge (12-2)
4. Durant (9-4)
5. Plant (10-2)
SATURDAY: Cambridge at Land O'Lakes (girls), 3 p.m. The Lancers continue their quest to take on as many top public schools as they can. It won't be easy against the Gators (7-3).
TUESDAY: Riverview at Bloomingdale (boys), 7:45. The Bulls won earlier this season, but the much-improved Sharks look for revenge in this district matchup.
THURSDAY: Chamberlain at Gaither (girls), 7:45. The solid Cowboys (9-3) play host to their new district foes.
JAN.23: Tampa Prep at Berkeley Prep (boys), 7:30. The Buccaneers clearly have the edge, but the longtime rivals still will draw a large crowd.