Eastside girls ends regular season on high note
Published: Thursday, February 1, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 31, 2007 at 2:21 p.m.
Eastside High School girls basketball team beat Lake Weir 48-14 to advance to the second round of the District 4-5A tournament at Ocala Vanguard High School.
The win was the 100th for Coach Kent Johnson and his staff at Eastside, and Johnson said he is proud of the work he and his staff have done with this year's team. He also said he is proud of the way the seniors on the team have worked all year, leading by example, and being great role models for the younger players throughout the season.
"To get 100 wins in four years is a tremendous accomplishment, and it says a lot about the kind of coaches that are on this staff," said Johnson, who has led the Lady Rams to three consecutive district titles and an appearance in the state championship game two years ago. All together, the Lady Rams have won the last five district tournaments.
"Averaging 25 wins a year is a pretty big milestone," he said.
Eastside will face host Ocala Vanguard at 5:30 p.m. Thursday and the winner will play in the championship game at 7 p.m. Saturday, also at Vanguard.
Johnson has received numerous ''Coach of the Year'' awards during his tenure with the Lady Rams, but he said the job he and the coaching staff has done this year is the best ever.
"This has been our greatest coaching year without a doubt," Johnson said. "The whole coaching staff has done more coaching and teaching this year than in the past.
"We're very young, and the players have been very receptive to what we are teaching them. In the past, we have had players with a lot of experience on the varsity level, and they could rely on their game experience a lot. This group doesn't have that kind of experience, and they have listened and done all the things we have asked them to do."
Johnson said he has seen dramatic improvement in his team from the beginning of the season to now.
"One of the main things is that we were able to do a lot of teaching," Johnson said, adding that there are only three seniors on the team, six sophomores and five juniors. Besides the seniors, no player had any varsity experience before the season began.
"They have developed a chemistry as the season has gone along, and they are a lot more confident in what they are doing," Johnson said. "The younger players have settled down. Varsity is a lot more different than JV. There are more people in the stands, and there is a lot more tension on this level."
Johnson gives the seniors a lot of credit.
"They way the seniors never got down on themselves or the team when we started out 5-7 gave the younger players a lot of confidence," said Johnson, crediting seniors Chennelle Anderson, Whitley Washington and Sharnae Ivery with a lot of this year's team success.
"Our seniors have led by example," Johnson said. "Chennelle, Sharnae and Whitley have performed strong each night. They gave the younger girls a lot of confidence, and showed them how to win. The seniors have remained positive all season long."
He said his team gained a lot of momentum after participating in the FloridaProspects.Com Invitational tournament held Dec. 27-30 at Gainesville High School.
Johnson said he realized his team had a lot of heart when they played First Academy out of Orlando in the tournament and lost 57-37. At the time, First Academy was the 5th ranked team in the nation, featuring a slew of Division 1 prospects led by Krystal Thomas, one of the nation's most heavily recruited seniors.
"I think their confidence grew when we played Orlando First Academy," Johnson said. "We gave them a good game in the first half, and could have easily lost by 40 points, but they never quit. I learned a lot about them that day."
The Lady Rams came in fifth out of 16 teams in the tournament. They defeated Frostproof, Cocoa and Jacksonville Wolfson.
Johnson said his team is usually smaller than their opponents, and he added that his players have learned that size doesn't mean a thing if they play like they are coached to play.
Johnson said his team understands that even though they might be outsized, if they do the right things, they will have a chance to win.
Robert Moramarco, an Eastside graduate who now teaches geometry at GHS and the organizer of the FloridaProspects.Com tournament, said despite Eastside's lack of height, they can be a formidable opponent.
"They don't have a lot of height, but they have a lot of speed and ballhandling ability," Moramarco said after the tournament in December. "And, you must cover the 3-point line because if they get hot, they will shoot you out of the gym."
The Lady Rams finished the regular season winning 11 of their last 13 games, and are currently on a nine-game winning streak. Last week, they beat three ranked teams in a row - Leesburg, Hawthorne and Bradford.
It seems as if Johnson's young team is peaking at the right time. Could the team win an unbelievable sixth straight district tournament with such a young team?
"I like our chances, and I like my team a lot," Johnson said. "They have stepped up to the plate and faced all challenges head on."
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