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Wesley Chapel has relied on complementary players to succeed.
By Izzy Gould, Times Staff Writer
Published February 16, 2008
No game they've prepared for has meant more than the one ahead.
Wesley Chapel plays tonight in its first region final, hosting one of the state's Goliaths in Winter Haven, ranked No. 2 in Class 5A. The Wildcats 24-4 have come within one win of matching the school record because of their balance. There are no stars, no Division I prospects - just a blue-collar bench group grinding out wins. So who are these Wesley Chapel girls? Wildcats coach Warren Jones took some time Friday to shed a little light on his starters:
Ashley Carey Nickname "Ash" F, Sr., 10.5 ppg
Carey transferred from Freedom two years ago and brought along a ton of hype. She has developed into a reliable leader, a post player with dangerous range from the perimeter. In a game Dec. 15 against Winter Park, she hit four straight 3-pointers en route to a 44-39 victory. For what she lacks in athleticism she makes up for in smarts. "She knows what needs to be accomplished," Jones said. "She's always thinking about the next play." That has helped Carey develop her leadership skills after the departure of Sthefany Thomas, now a freshman at Clemson.
Jones said with a laugh that Vizcaino "couldn't make a layup" when she joined the varsity three years ago. Now she's arguably the most competitive Wildcat on the court. "She worked her butt off to improve," Jones said. "She wanted to play a major part on this team." Through weightlifting and track, she continues to mold herself into a basketball player and like the other starters has drawn interest from small colleges. Those schools are drawn to Vizcaino because of her intensity, Jones said. "Just looking at her she doesn't show emotion, but she has so much passion for what she's doing," Jones said. "You wouldn't be able to tell, but she's into it more than anyone on the court."
A teammate gave her the nickname "Big Diesel" because of her power in the weight room and because she loves to play tough on the court. She played for the Wildcats only this season after transferring from Cambridge, but her teammates quickly learned to feed off her physical play. That's an element Jones' past teams were missing. "She's very strong," Jones said. "She loves contact. She loves to be physical. She loves to put you on the ground." The irony is that when you meet Deboer, she speaks with a delicate tone and always offers a smile. "It's so funny - she has the sweetest voice, and she is a sweet girl," Jones said. "On the court, her attitude totally changes. She took that and ran with it."
Cree McIver Nickname "Cree" G, Sr., 8.2 ppg
The Wharton transfer took a season to adjust, and during her final year, she has flourished to become a classic two-guard. She's a scorer and a player with dribbling skills, quick hands and fast feet. Her addition has been a tremendous asset for the Wildcats, mostly because of her ability to create opportunities for teammates when she can't find a way to score.
Known for her strength, Ducos is "probably the strongest girl I've ever met," Jones said. She moved to the area three years ago from New Jersey and provides an inside presence thanks to her 6-foot-1 frame. She was instrumental in helping the Wildcats advance to tonight's game after scoring 16 in a 43-24 win against rival Land O'Lakes in the region quarterfinal. "She's very quiet, but when you get her fired up, you better watch out," Jones said. That goes for her role as a prankster as well. "They know Jeani's going to laugh and be goofy," Jones said.
Skinny: Blue Devils star Kiara Francisco hit two free throws with 9.6 second left for a 45-44 win at No. 3 Lake Gibson to advance to the region final. ... Winter Haven has advanced to six of the past seven final fours, winning state titles in 2005 and 2007. ... The Blue Devils are led by Connecticut signee Tiffany Hayes and USF signees Andrea and Andrell Smith.
Leaning on the boys: Wesley Chapel boys players Greg Jenkins, Ladarius Manora and David Mitchell have been scrimmaging against the Wildcats girls all week to help them prepare for the Winter Haven blitz. Wildcats coach Warren Jones encourages the boys to play at full speed, forcing his girls to run back on defense.
Wildcats coach on Winter Haven: "They're a powerhouse team. They're always disciplined. We have to focus on not making dumb mistakes. We have to take care of the ball. We can't give up." - Wesley Chapel's Jones