Building unity


Hawthorne basketball players (clockwise from bottom) Kiara Bradley, John'Neisha Ingram, Brianna Fort and Latoya Adams have developed a strong relationship playing for coach Barry Hutchinson.

OCTAVIAN CANTILLI/SPECIAL TO THE SUN
Published: Friday, January 19, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 19, 2007 at 1:22 a.m.
Five years ago, a group of four eighth graders - Kiara Bradley, Latoya Adams, Brianna Fort and John'Neisha Ingram - began their varsity careers at Hawthorne High School under the direction of Barry Hutchinson, who was in his first year as the Hornets' head coach.
"We were like the new girls on the block," Ingram said.
Since they all joined the team simultaneously, it only makes sense that the girls developed a strong relationship over time.
"We are real close," Adams said. "Basically, we grew up together. We tell each other everything. There's nothing that can break us apart."
"They became my sisters," Bradley added.
Not only did the four seniors become friends off the court, they learned each other's tendencies on the court, which makes playing together that much easier.
"They're very familiar with each other, which has been very important to this team's success," Hutchinson said.
Now, those eighth graders from five years ago are now seasoned veterans, seniors who have developed into the unquestioned leaders of the team. All the seniors are co-captains, and they all appreciate how important it is for them to take an active leadership role.
"Our teammates look up to us," Fort said. "They depend on us to help them, and we depend on them."
As the foursome has grown together, the team has shown steady improvement. As of Wednesday, the Hornets had a record of 15-5. Last year, the Hornets finished the regular season with a record of 22-4 and, more importantly, captured the school's first district title in more than a decade.
"It was an exhilarating feeling," Bradley said. "We made a statement that we're bringing it back. It just felt good last year to win (district) after so long."
The district title was bittersweet for Fort, who had to sit out after suffering a torn ACL a month before the tournament. Fort is looking forward to making an impact this time around.
"It was very hard (last year)," Fort said. "I felt like I let my team down. I'm really looking forward to it (this year), because now I'm a part of it."
Not only did the team win the district title, but Hawthorne also beat Jacksonville Providence in the regional quarterfinals to advance to the regional semifinals, marking the team's deepest playoff run since the 2000 season. The girls have a chance to make history in their final season. Should they win their district again this year, they would be the only girls basketball team in Hawthorne history to win consecutive district titles.
But all the players and Hutchinson made it clear that they would not be content just winning another district title. Winning district and a first-round playoff game last year made them eager to accomplish more in 2007, especially with the core group of seniors knowing that this is their last chance at a run for the state title.
"They're never satisfied, and their ultimate goal is to win state," Hutchinson said. "To get there, they're gonna have to stay hungry."
"It's like a passion," Bradley added. "It's (what) we got out for every practice. Now that we won it last year, it just feels like there's something grabbing at you. We've got to go get it."
But before Hawthorne can accomplish any of its lofty postseason goals, the seniors will be recognized for their contributions on Jan. 26, the final regular season home game, when the Hornets will take on Williston.
"I know, for me personally, because I'm already very emotional, I know it's gonna be sad," said Ingram, who is the younger sister of UF tight end Cornelius Ingram. "At the same time, it's gonna be exciting because this is gonna be my last night."
"Its been a pleasant journey," Hutchinson said. "I've seen them mature from where they first started to where they are now. They've been a big part of the development of Hawthorne. I'm gonna miss them, but I'm happy for them, because I think each one of them is going to be successful in whatever they decide they want to do in life."

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