By Matt Mauney | Associate Editor
There’s zero seniors and just two juniors. The rest is filled out by freshmen and sophomores. When looking down the roster, you would think you’re looking at the roster of a junior varsity team.
But, this is the varsity roster of the Strawberry Crest girls’ basketball team.
Despite not having a veteran group full of three- and four-year starters, the Lady Chargers bring plenty of talent to the floor.
Strawberry Crest began the season on a roll, going 5-0 and outscoring opponents 323-134. Since then, the Lady Chargers have dropped three straight, including a hard-fought loss to undefeated Sickles Tuesday night at home.
Talent can go a long way, but experience generally goes further. There are several players on this year’s team who have some quality playing experience, but according to head coach La’Tosha Lewis, her team will have to start relying on that experience and believing in themselves.
“We’re a very talented group, but sometimes, my players are lacking confidence on the floor and are unsure of themselves,” she said. “What has really cost us in most of the games is our free-throw shooting and turnovers.”
Both of those negated a possible win over Sickles for their first loss of the season.
Strawberry Crest missed 15 free throws, including key ones in the fourth quarter, and turned the ball over late in the game that led to easy transition points for Sickles.
“When some of our key players started to foul out, we started to give up transition baskets,” Lewis said.
The program Lewis is building has grown steadily since the school opened in 2009. After a 0-21 inaugural season, the Lady Chargers went 15-12 in 2010-11.
Last season, Strawberry Crest went 11-11 after moving up from Class 4A to 6A. Both of those .500-or-better teams only had one senior each, so this year’s senior-less group is not unfamiliar territory for Lewis.
“I had five freshmen last year and four starting for me,” she said.
This year’s 5-0 start was the best in school history, but the Lady Chargers now find themselves at 5-3 after their three-game skid against Steinbrenner, Armwood and Sickles. Those three teams have a combined 17-1 record this season.
Despite the losses, those powerhouses serve as an inspiration for Lewis and her Lady Chargers, and she expects to make her young program into a powerhouse team in the upcoming years.
With a young but talented team, that outcome is likely.
Junior Aliyah Gregory is one of the leaders for the young Lady Chargers. The 5-11 shooting guard/power forward was a First Team Western Conference selection last season and set a school record for 31 points in a single game.
Gregory scored 22 in a valiant effort against Sickles Tuesday, while sophomore Maiya Trigg contributed 19 points. Gregory is just one of two juniors on this year’s team, with point guard Sonia Correa as the other. The rest of the team comprises four sophomores and four freshmen.
What those younger players may not have in varsity playing experience, they make up for in talent, including 5-9 freshman Terra Brooks, who was also a standout for the Strawberry Crest varsity volleyball team this year.
The road ahead isn’t an easy one for the Lady Chargers, with rematches against Sickles and Armwood and the Seffner Christian Christmas Tournament Dec. 21-22, but Lewis remains optimistic her team can go far.
“My younger players coming up are unsure right now when it comes to confidence,” she said. “The only thing I can do to get them more mature is practice. In practice, I’ve got my older ones going up against my younger players to push them and emulate a game. I told them that if you don’t have confidence in yourself, no one else can have confidence in you.”
Strawberry Crest will look to snap their three-game losing streak and pick up their first Class 6A District 11 win Friday at home against King.
Contact Matt Mauney at email@example.com.