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Basketball: Wildcats get fresh start, big win
By IZZY GOULD
Published December 5, 2007
WESLEY CHAPEL - The name remains fresh in many minds.
Now there's a collage of Wesley Chapel's greatest basketball player that greets every visitor who walks into the gymnasium.
And on a night when the Wildcats hoped to escape Sthefany Thomas' shadow for good, the school honored her in absentia at midcourt during halftime with a presentation to her family. Thomas, who now plays for Clemson, has been credited with turning Wesley Chapel into a winner.
Her parents can tell her proudly of the Tuesday night they watched Wesley Chapel flourish while starting a new chapter, upending previously undefeated Land O'Lakes in a 63-46 victory.
"The girls love Sthefany and there's no disrespect to her, but now is their time," Wesley Chapel coach Warren Jones said. "That's what they're thriving on. Not many people thought they can play the way they play. ... Collectively, as a team, we're a tough team to beat."
This night was something Jones had waited a long time to see. His players executed with pressure that forced turnovers, missed shots and transition baskets for Wesley Chapel.
The time this group spent in the weight room bonding throughout the summer and fall was evident with a chemistry often lacking when Thomas was on the bench.
Eight seniors and a coach have been itching to show they can succeed without her as well. Wesley Chapel saw plenty of offensive diversity with Jeani Ducos 18 points, Ashley Carey (16) and Cree McIver (12) each scoring in double figures.
Land O'Lakes coach Laurie Pacholke said she has seen a change since Thomas left for Clemson.
"They distribute the ball a lot better," Pacholke said. "They're looking for other players. ... Every individual was trying to do something."
The Wildcats (7-1) held players such as Florida State signee Kayli Keough in check most of Tuesday's game. Keough finished with 17 points, and may have reached the 1,000-point plateau on her final point of the night with a free throw. Pacholke said no official records were kept during Keough's freshman season, making it difficult to know for sure.
Many of Keough's points came long after the Wildcats had jumped to a double-digit lead. The turning point came in the first quarter after Land O'Lakes (8-1) took a four-point lead. Jones called timeout. When play resumed, the Wildcats went on a 10-1 run to finish the first quarter and never looked back.
"When they took the lead they wanted it more than we did," Pacholke said. "They outhustled us in every aspect. ... They mentally took us out of the game."
Mentally, the Wildcats took a huge step building on the foundation set arguably by the best player in Pasco County history.
"She did a majority of stuff," Carey said of Thomas. "But we're proving we have something here at Wesley Chapel."
Said McIver: "We have five individual players now who have talent. ... You have to worry about all of us, not just one of us."