By: Richard Burton, CF Sports Information
Ocala, FL– Both St. Petersburg College and Santa Fe women’s basketball teams hope to make an impact when they take the court to open up the FCSAA State Tournament on Thursday, March 6 at 1:00 PM in Ocala. Every game of the tournament can be watched live at www.ihigh.com/collegeofcentralfla. Full tournament info here: http://cfpatriots.net/tournament/index
The Titans enter the tournament on a 13-game winning streak, while the Saints downed rival College of Central Florida 56-53 in the Mid-Florida Conference play-in game to reach the event.
“We’re excited and looking forward to play in Ocala,” said Santa Fe coach Chanda Stebbins said. “We’re going to play hard and see what happens.”
St. Petersburg knocked off SFC twice during the regular season, including a 74-48 win in Ocala back in November.
The Titans, though, got a much tougher game from the Saints the second time they faced off, winning 80-75 in December.
“Things are much different from November to December,” Davidson said. “The second time we played them it was much closer. Too close for my comfort.
“Santa Fe is well-coached and (Stebbins) does a good job with them, so we know it will be a tough game.”
St. Petersburg is taking the one game at a time approach, as it prepares for the tournament.
“I feel it is up for grabs this year and now that we are down to the final eight in the state anyone can win on any given night,” Davidson said. “I’ve told our girls that they can’t overlook anyone at this point and they have to prepare for each opponent.”
The Saints have played a rugged schedule to get ready for the state tournament that includes 15 games against team ranked in the FCSAA Coaches Poll.
“We feel battle-tested,” Stebbins said. “Our schedule has been very tough. Sometimes playing teams like that is good and other times it isn’t.
“Hopefully, that’s helped us.”
Stebbins said it will take a total team effort for Santa Fe to be successful against SPC.
“St. Pete is very talented and it gets contributions from a lot of people,” Stebbins said. “That means that everyone on our team has to win their individual matchups.
“You can’t just focus on one player with them. Normally, you win two or three individual matchups you are in pretty good shape, but with them, you can’t do that and everyone has to do their job.”
St. Petersburg has a comfort level playing in Ocala, which other teams might not.
After a tough loss to the College of Central Florida, the Titans dealt Chipola, the nation’s top-ranked team at the time, its only loss of the regular season.
Simonne Potts scored on a layup with 0.9 seconds for the go-ahead basket for the Titans in their first victory over Chipola since 2009.
“It’s a different atmosphere at the state tournament and we love the fact that it is in Ocala,” Davidson said. “We’ve played (at CF) three times this season, so we feel comfortable with the gym, floor and the environment, but Santa Fe being right down the road and playing in the Mid-Florida Conference is familiar with playing (at CF) as well, so we know it is going to be a tough game.”
A year ago, St. Petersburg, which has qualified for the state tournament four times in Davidson’s five seasons as head coach, earned its first postseason victory since a 1997 triumph over Seminole State with a 43-33 win over Hillsborough.
Davidson was pleased with the way her team from a year ago set the tone for this season.
“That was a special group to me,” Davidson said. “They all came in and did a great job and bought into what we are trying to do here.”
This year’s SPC squad has picked right up where last year’s group left off.
“I’m proud of this team,” Davidson said. “We’ve got a good group of sophomores and our younger players have also come in and learned the system. They’ve been a lot of fun to coach.
“I always tell them that if they put in the work that good things will happen and this team has worked hard and they deserve everything they’ve accomplished.”
SFC got contributions from an unlikely source to get past CF in the game for the MFC’s third and final playoff spot.
After averaging 2.4 points during the regular season, Brenique Garment finished with 10 points and eight rebounds to lead the Saints in the win over CF.
Her play in the playoff game is something Stebbins hopes carries on throughout the roster.
“She was injured last year and has worked hard to get back and is peaking,” Stebbins said. “Hopefully, we are peaking as a team at the right time.”
Santa Fe is making its seventh state tournament trip in the past eight seasons under Stebbins and is looking for its first win at the event since 2011.
“With any program whether it’s NCAA or JUCO, you have to have consistency,” Stebbins said. “The first thing is your coaching staff. We’ve been fortunate to have the same assistants for two to three years at a time and their hard work has been key.
“Then we’ve been able to recruit good players, who played for winning high school programs. Then when they’ve gotten here, they’ve been able to add to their history and carry over the success they achieved in high school.”