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Despite low expectations, TC has shown it belongs

The Crusaders lost a lot of talent but have played well entering the Class 3A, District 11 tournament.

By MIKE READLING

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 4, 2001


TAMPA -- By all accounts, Tampa Catholic was supposed to ... well, stink this season.

They had to stink. There was no way Tampa Catholic was going to be good was the word around town.

After all, TC was coming off a season in which it finished 27-5 and advanced to the region final before losing to district rival St. Petersburg Catholic. After that loss, the Crusaders graduated three 1,000 point scorers -- September Harrison, Lisa Pullaro and Miki Stark.

A team just doesn't recover from that in one season, people said. People were wrong.

The Crusaders have lost twice as many games this season as they lost all of last season, but they're still 18-10 entering this week's Class 3A, District 11 tournament at Clearwater Central Catholic.

Not too shabby.

Tampa Catholic doesn't boast a lineup in which 60 percent of its players have scored 1,000 points, but Meghann McNiff averages 12 points and 10 rebounds and Glenna Dickman averages 16.5 points. Not exactly something to turn your nose up at.

"I think coming into this season, the prevailing attitude among everyone, the players, the fans, the media, other teams, was that we lost three 1,000-point scorers, finished with five losses, one game from the final four and that we were going to (stink)," Tampa Catholic coach Karim Nohra said.

"Unfortunately for everyone else, we didn't (stink). We're 18-10, and I don't think that's (stinking). If everyone came into this season with the same attitude they had last year, we might have won some of those close games. But they all figured we're not as good."

The close games Nohra refers to are games like the 39-35 loss to Robinson, a 55-52 overtime loss to Academy of the Holy Names, a 38-36 loss to St. Petersburg Catholic and 43-42 road loss to Miami Archbishop Curley.

For the Crusaders it has been: If it's close, it's normally a loss.

"We've lost several games by real small margins," Nohra said. "All of our losses have been within an eyelash of being a win. We're either real close or we kill people."

The Crusaders' worst loss this season is 15 points against Orlando University, a team that plays three classifications higher than Tampa Catholic. On the other hand, most of Tampa Catholic's wins resemble the 20-point rout the Crusaders handed Robinson in the teams' other meeting.

Starting at 8 p.m. Monday, when Tampa Catholic tips off against CCC, neither the blowouts nor close losses will count for anything other than experience.

The Crusaders know what it is like to be in pressure situations, and Nohra said, they know what to expect. "I hope (it helps) because now these kids have been put in the situation," Nohra said. "They know what it's like to be in a tight game and what we like to do in certain situations and what to do when they get there.

"You can talk about it all you want during practice. But until you get in front of the fans and the refs and the lights and the buzzers, et cetera, you just can't understand what it's like."

That doesn't mean Nohra is pleased with his team being the No. 4 seed. In order to win the district title, Tampa Catholic probably will have to beat top-seeded St. Petersburg Catholic in the semifinals. "You always want to stay away from the No. 1 seed, but we're coming in to win," Nohra said. "I think we can compete with anyone in our district. We have competed with anyone in our district."

District schedule

CLASS 6A, DISTRICT 7

at Gaither

Thursday: Gaither vs. Bloomingdale, 6:30; Sickles vs. Durant, 8; Saturday: Final, 7:30.

CLASS 5A, DISTRICT 8

at Plant City

Thursday: Lakeland vs. Lake Region, 7:30; Friday: Lakeland Jenkins vs. Plant City, 6:30; Lakeland/Lake Region winner vs. Haines City, 8; Saturday: Final, 7:30.

CLASS 5A, DISTRICT 11

at Memorial Gym

(across from Hillsborough High)

Wednesday: Chamberlain vs. King, 7; Thursday: Hillsborough vs. Wharton, 6; Plant vs. Chamberlain/King winner, 8; Saturday: Final, 7:30.

CLASS 5A, DISTRICT 12

at Sarasota

Wednesday: Brandon vs. Riverview, 7; Thursday: Brandon/Riverview winner vs. Sarasota, 6; Charlotte vs. Port Charlotte, 8; Saturday: Final, 7:30.

CLASS 4A, DISTRICT 10

at Blake

Tuesday: Jefferson vs. Leto, 7; Thursday: Armwood vs. Jefferson/Leto winner, 6; Blake vs. Tampa Bay Tech, 8; Saturday: Final, 7:30.

CLASS 4A, DISTRICT 12

at Bradenton Bayshore

Wednesday: Sarasota Booker vs. Bayshore, 7; Thursday: Sebring vs. East Bay, 6; Southeast vs. Booker/Bayshore winner, 7:45; Saturday: Final, 7:30.

CLASS 3A, DISTRICT 11

at Clearwater Central Catholic

Monday: St. Petersburg Catholic vs. Osceola, 6; Tampa Catholic vs. CCC, 8; Tuesday: Robinson vs. Mitchell, 6; Academy of the Holy Names vs. Berkeley Prep, 8; Thursday: Academy of the Holy Names/Berkeley Prep winner vs. Robinson/Mitchell winner, 6; SPC/Osceola winner vs. Tampa Catholic/CCC winner, 8; Saturday: Final, 7:30.

CLASS 2A, DISTRICT 10

at Lakeland Christian

Tuesday: Lakeland Santa Fe vs. McKeel Academy, 7:30; Thursday: Fort Meade vs. Lakeland Christian, 6; Tampa Prep vs. Santa Fe/McKeel winner, 7:30; Saturday: Final, 7:30.

CLASS A, DISTRICT 6

at Seminole Presbyterian

Thursday: Bayshore vs. Seminole Presbyterian, 6; Tampa Baptist vs. Riverhills Christian, 7:30; Saturday: Final, 7:30

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