It has been 13 years since the Armwood High girls basketball team reached the state final four, but coach Patrick Kelly believes this year’s group has what it takes to bring the Hawks back to Lakeland, the annual site of the boys and girls state basketball tournaments.
“Every year, you tell your girls, ‘Let’s get to states,’ ” Kelly said. “You don’t want to sell them short, but this is honestly the first year I feel it’s doable.”
Armwood fell short in the district semifinals the past two seasons and has not made the playoffs since 2009, when the team finished 21-5. A trip to the region tournament would be a first for Kelly, who took over the program following the 2009 season.
This season, however, Armwood is 12-2 and undefeated (8-0) in Class 6A-District 9. After upsetting Strawberry Crest earlier in the season, the Hawks entered the Florida Association of Basketball Coaches state poll at No. 7.
Senior guard Kiana King (15.8) and freshman Alyssa Nieves (13.0) have been the Hawks’ top scorers, while senior Kiki Newsome is averaging 8.5 rebounds per game.
Kelly hopes the team’s success won’t alter their blue-collar mentality.
“We preach to be humble,” Kelly said. “To our seniors, I’d say ‘Remember those first two years of your career when we took our lumps.’ ”
Sharks succeeding under new coach
Riverview’s girls have enjoyed success the past few seasons, and under first-year coach Gerard Batista, the Sharks haven’t lost their position as one of the most successful programs in Hillsborough County.
The Sharks sit atop Class 8A-District 7 with a 4-1 record and are 8-2 overall. Riverview moved up from Class 7A this season, where it reached the region quarterfinals as district runner-up.
“I think we still have a lot of work to do,” Batista said. “I inherited a lot of good talent. They have good chemistry, even when they get down in games. They work well together.”
Becoming familiar with Riverview’s program wasn’t an issue for Batista. He coached the girls team at Marian Rogers Middle School, the feeder school for Riverview, and for two years coached forward/center Kierra Haywood, now a 6-foot-1 senior. He also coached Faith Woodard, now a freshman at Georgetown University.
“In my opinion, (Haywood) is the best big player in the county,” Batista said. “She’s versatile and she can rebound. She can put up 20 on any given night.”
Haywood is averaging 21.5 points and 14.6 rebounds per game. But Haywood’s stats wouldn’t be possible, Batista said, without the playmaking ability of junior guard Asia Royster, who is averaging 4.8 assists per game.
“They’ve been amazing,” he said.