LAKELAND - After 13 years of playing and coaching in college, Carrie Mahon returned to the Tampa Bay area in 2002 to be closer to family, which meant she had to make a huge coaching move.
She would have to leave the coaching job at Culver-Stockton College in Missouri after seven years and return to high school, a move that, to say the least, worried her.
"One of the reasons I didn't want to coach high school was because of the family involvement surrounding the players," said Mahon, who also played at Culver-Stockton and assisted at East Illinois for two years. "I thought I would miss that relationship with the college players because they were on their own. No other distractions."
She said she couldn't have been more wrong. In no time at all she came to love everything about coaching at Plant High, including working with the players' parents.
"There hasn't been one thing that I've asked for that I haven't gotten, and a lot of that has to do with the parents' support," she said. "And the players, well, they have been a dream.
"In college the players have a mind-set, their own opinions. But here the players are so eager to learn from you. Everything you tell them to do, they do.
Then she grinned, which might have been tough for a lot of coaches after her team lost 68-38 to an athletic Fort Lauderdale Dillard team in a state semifinal.
But these Panthers, who finished 20-5, had plenty of reasons to feel good: They made it further than just anybody thought they would, reaching the state semifinals for the first time in the school's 78-year history, and they have a lot to forward to.
"Our coach made us believe we could do this," Plant sophomore forward Eriqah Butler said. "She said we can come back again, and I believe her.
"We know what's it like now and we definitely want to come back."