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Basketball players exceed expectations


© St. Petersburg Times, published March 4, 2001

PEBBLE CREEK -- Bleak to very bleak was as optimistic as Wharton girls coach Eddie Henderson could describe the outlook for the Gryphons early in the 2000-01 season. The team started out 0-2 in district competition and 2-4 overall.

It placed fifth in the Craig Keeler Memorial tournament, but in the Leto Christmas Invitational Tournament it placed second in a tough meet.

"Our girls really turned it around at the Leto tournament," Henderson said. "From there, we went on a 10-game winning streak and finished the season winning 18 of the final 21 games. We won the district with a 6-2 record and continued on to the regional semifinals before falling out. We ended up 20-8 for our best season so far."

Henderson has been the only coach for the Gryphons in the four years Wharton has been open. The team posted winning records in three of the four seasons.

The first three years the team went 9-12, 15-7 and 13-8. It also won a district championship in the 1998-99 season.

As it entered the Leto tournament, Henderson huddled up the team and gave a short, but sound, pep talk.

"If you hustle and simply play your best and give all you have, good things will happen for you," Henderson said he told the girls at the team's low point.

"They took it to heart, and, sure enough, things turned around."

Henderson said all 13 players on the roster played and contributed to the season's success.

Junior center Candice Dupree was the offensive leader for the Gryphons. She has been a starter since her freshman season and finished this year with 924 career points. She hopes to break the 1,000-point mark in her senior season.

At 6-foot-2, the first-team All Western Conference selection had game averages of 17.5 points, 11.9 rebounds and 7 blocks. She also finished the season with five triple doubles, or points in the double-digits, rebounds and blocks in a single game.

Dupree said the team was led by some very capable seniors this year. "Whether we were ahead or behind in a game, they always gave very vocal and demonstrative support all season. We had a good season," she said.

Seniors Merari DeJesus, Adrianne Bate and Kristin Calnan were the team captains. DeJesus and Bate were four-year letter earners. Calnan earned letters twice.

DeJesus was the point guard and on-court general. The quick and savvy player's per-game averages included 10.5 points, 4.1 assists and 5 steals.

Bate was a backup forward, but Henderson said she gave valuable support on the court and from the bench.

Henderson said Calnan was probably the most improved player on the team this year.

Senior Elan Rowe, a transfer from Vancouver, and junior Ivana Pesic, an exchange student from Germany, both had to adjust their style of play from their native countries. However, Pesic worked her way into the starting lineup as a 6-foot-1 shooting guard, and Rowe was a backup guard with aggressive defensive skills.

Erika Griffin, a sophomore, was another starting guard. Henderson said Griffin is always an aggressive defensive specialist, often against bigger, more experienced opponents.

Kelsey Seay is the remaining senior on the squad. She was an effective backup guard.

Ebony Felder, April Coates, Katie Roberts and Sarah Yankey are the remaining juniors on the team. All should help form the nucleus of the squad next season. Whitney Burton, a sophomore guard, completes the Gryphons roster.

"We have some good players coming back," Dupree said. "Next year looks to be very positive."

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