LAND O’ LAKES — When Academy at the Lakes girls basketball coach Karim Nohra arrived at the school in 2011, the Wildcats were not a perennial power in any sport other than six-man football, which won a state championship in 2006.
Since 2011, the mantra for AATL athletics has been simple: Do well in the classroom and on the field. With those values, it has provided the Wildcats with a steady diet of great student-athletes whom, throughout the past few years and the 2014-15 school year, saw Academy at the Lakes’ most successful athletics run in the private school’s short history.
“It’s all kind of built up,” athletic director Tom Haslam said. “It is no overnight change, though, but success lately has come fairly quickly. You look at my program, the boys basketball team. We’ve been fairly decent, but this year everything kind of came into place. We had talent and senior leadership. It all came into place and got us to the final four.
“It has come fairly quickly and this year kind of culminated for our athletic program.”
Haslam’s boys basketball team had a program-best 20-10 season. It ended in the Class 2A state tournament semifinals and was highlighted with a signature 60-51 win over defending state champ Orlando Christian Prep behind a 35-point performance from senior shooting guard Ethan Haslam.
The Wildcats’ softball team also had another season on the heels of state tournament appearances, and Jerry English’s team ended the spring with a 13-4 record and again qualified for the 2A postseason. Haslam said English, 78, has a lot left in the tank and has more energy than ever to coach.
Setting the athletics tone at AATL has been Nohra’s girls program, which has made four-consecutive trips to the 2A state semifinals and one berth in the state title game. Playing with primarily a six-man rotation throughout this past season and playoffs, Nohra’s club finished 27-2 after being ousted at state by Tallahassee FAMU.
“I think the girls basketball team became the flagship of success,” Nohra said. “It’s awesome to see every team at the school being successful. Tom (Haslam) is amazing at getting things done like setting the gym up and doing the paperwork. That way, the only thing I have to worry about is coaching. He does so much work behind the scenes that nobody really knows about. But the success at AATL isn’t due to one person. It’s due to a lot of people putting in the effort.”
Haslam said he believes other coaches at the school see the successful programs as the standard to strive to live up to and set out to become the school’s next historic team.
“I think the coaches see other coaches have success and they don’t want to be the guy or girl that doesn’t have a successful program,” Haslam added. “You see a guy like (Karim) Nohra, who has been having success and getting his name out there, and other coaches want to follow that lead and get a piece of that.
“You don’t want to be the person who’s lagging.”