No revisiting the past
The Sharks are as talented as ever, with no plans to bow out early in the playoffs.
By DEREK LARIVIERE
Published January 28, 2007
BROOKSVILLE - Four years of running through Hernando County competition and making the state playoffs has prepared Nature Coast for this season.
Last year was a prime example of a missed opportunity. The Sharks finished second in the district, losing the final to Gulf and moving on to face Orlando Bishop Moore in the first round of the playoffs. With its most talented lineup to that point, the team was expected to make waves on the next level.
Misfortune struck in the form of disciplinary suspensions for many of Nature Coast's key players, including stars Cherikhan Waddy and Shareka Maner. The Sharks went into the Bishop Moore game undermanned, falling 64-14.
This season, the focus for coach Jason Montgomery was getting past the region semifinals. He organized his schedule so his team would face tougher competition during the regular season while instilling lessons to his players along the way.
"Games at this point in the season are so different," Montgomery said. "The mental part plays a much bigger role."
At 19-5, the Sharks are the top seed in Class 4A, District 8 and are expected again to play at least one game in the state playoffs.
"We're a different team this year," said Maner, the team's scoring (10.6) and rebounding (7.1) leader. "We are a lot tighter group off the court, and that has helped us focus more out there."
Maner is a prime example of a player who has had to contain her aggression on the hardwood. Suspended in December for an altercation with Hernando's April Griffey, she came back strong, with more self-control.
"The important thing for me is to keep my head in the game," Maner said. "I can't worry about the referees, the other players or anything else. I just have to play my game."
Channeling that intensity is something Montgomery prides himself on with his team. This year, Nature Coast has more depth and experience.
Another key for the Sharks is the improvement of floor general Crystal Anthony. The sophomore point guard has cut down on turnovers and begun to grasp the offense. She knows when to slow the game down.
"Crystal's improved very nicely," Montgomery said. "When she listens and slows down the offense instead of just going through the motions, she is a major key for us."
In the conference-clinching victory over Hernando to end the regular season, Anthony was particularly impressive, dishing out a season-high nine assists and snatching five rebounds. She has become the spark plug of a potent Nature Coast offense.