The Rock could become first area state champ in 13 years
Published: Monday, January 25, 2010 at 11:48 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 25, 2010 at 11:48 p.m.
It has been 13 years since a local girls basketball team hoisted an FHSAA state championship trophy. Since then, four teams have reached a title game with two (2003 P.K. Yonge and 2005 Eastside) facing a nationally ranked opponent and falling by 33 or more points and the other two (2008 Lafayette and 2009 P.K. Yonge) losing close to more experienced foes.
The general thought among those who closely follow the sport statewide is that the Jaterra Bonds- and Niya Johnson-led Blue Wave will end that drought by capturing the Class 2A title on Feb. 27. However, the prevailing wisdom is that Buchholz is among a handful of teams that could win the 5A championship the night of Jan. 25.
But even a few hours before the Bobcats would get their shot, another area team could win it all.
That's because by then, the rest of Class 1A might have unsuccessfully gotten a piece of The Rock.
The Lions are 20-2 with the losses coming by a combined three points to 4A Jacksonville Bartram Trail (now 19-3) and 6A Orlando Dr. Phillips (21-0).
Coach Fabian Chapov has a starting lineup that is as unique for its skilled size as it is for its foreign flavor. Senior Greta Bartkute (11.9 ppg, 11.2 rpg) is a 6-foot-3 Tampa commitment, and she is joined in the front court by 6-2 junior Paulina Zaveckaite (18 ppg, 11.8 rpg) and 6-4 junior Viktorija Dimaite (13.3 ppg, 8.3 rpg). They often are set up nicely by underrated, yet highly skilled, junior point guard Kornelija Valiuskyte (10 ppg, 4.8 apg, 4.6 spg, 2.1 rpg).
Last Tuesday, against a very good Lafayette team that local girls basketball expert Rob Moramarco said he believes will reach the 2A final four, the Lions handled the visiting Hornets, 67-45. The Lions dominated the glass with Bartkute, Zaveckaite and Dimaite combining for 38 rebounds.
But these aren't just big girls who appear lost when they venture outside the paint. Offensively, they can score from anywhere and have combined to sink 29 three-point shots this season.
"That's probably the most major disadvantage an opponent has against us," Chapov said. "Our girls can really shoot.
"That's huge because of how a team has to defend you. When you have 6-3 kids who can hurt you in the post or shooting threes, you have difficulties that arise trying to stop that.
"I wouldn't want to have to play against us."
Chapov said his team learned a lot from last season's 51-42 regional semifinal loss to eventual state runner-up Tallahassee FAMU and should be better prepared to make a run at a state title when the playoffs begin next month.
Bartkute agreed, and added two focus points for the Lions.
"We have to stay out of foul trouble," Bartkute said. "We really have to.
"And we also have to continue to believe in ourselves. If we do that, we should be able to do really well."