LUTZ – Steinbrenner High School coach JR Allen issued a challenge to his young basketball team. It was simple: get tough.
His Lady Warriors last season were just that, tough – and most of them graduated. This season, Steinbrenner is back with a young team that has promptly jumped out to a 10-0 start, led by tenacious junior Rachel Briere.
The Lady Warriors contest every ball, rebound or on the floor. It’s worked. They aren’t going to break any scoring records this season, but they are going to try to break any teams that gets in the way. Their goal? A run to a state title, the first in Steinbrenner basketball history.
On Dec. 6, the Warriors held a solid Alonso High School team to one field goal until the final minute while running away to a 50-7 win. Briere was key. A quick reason how Briere dominated early to set the pace: On Alonso’s first possession, Briere battled an Alonso defender to the ground and eventually came up with the loose ball. That loose ball was converted into a basket.
On Alonso’s second possession, she wrestled the ball away from an Alonso defender. Minutes later, she dove head first for a loose ball, came up with it, and flipped it off for another easy bucket. The rout was on.
It’s been that way all season. Briere, although only a junior, has assumed a leadership role on a team with five seniors. At 6-0, she dominates the lane and barks out signals like a quarterback. She said it was Allen’s talk at the start of the season that made her realize that she needed to toughen her game.
“Our defense is everything,” Briere said. “That’s everything we need to do. Playing tough defense, no matter what it takes, is the only way to win. If I get the ball on offense, that’s great, but it’s about stopping the other team.”
Briere, who has a 4.9 grade point average at Steinbrenner, heeded Allen’s challenge perfectly.
“She is a great player,” Allen said. “I challenged them. We lost some tough players and I wanted this year’s team to be tough. That’s what is special about Rachel. She set an example for every player on the team. The team feeds off of her toughness. We might not be a great shooting team, but with our defense, we can be as good as anyone.”
Briere played last year but knew that someone had to step in as a team leader this season. She was a role player last season when Steinbrenner finished 21-7 and earned a spot in the state playoffs. This season, however, is different.
“She changed her game,” Allen said. “The rest of the team looks up to her and she’s come through.”
For Briere, it’s all about the wins.
“We can still improve,” she said. “We want to go all the way this year, and it’s all about defense.’’