P.K.’s McRae, Young lead big school All Area team

P.K. Yonge's Zion McRae (left) and Gainesville's Leyah Houston led their teams deep into the regional playoffs in 2023.
Graphic by Seth Johnson / Photos by C.J. Gish
Editor’s Note
This is the second of five stories unveiling the 2023 Bosshardt Realty All Area Basketball Teams. Click here to read about the Small School girls team. Go to our All Area girls basketball team landing page by clicking here. Go to our All Area boys basketball team landing page by clicking here.

The 2022-23 high school girls basketball season featured plenty of talent around the area. 

And while no big school (3A-6A) made it to the final four in Lakeland, one team came up just a bit short. And while the P.K. Yonge Blue Wave only used seven to eight players most nights, they had two of the best players in the area. Those two players lead the way on the Bosshardt Realty Big School Girls All-Area Basketball team. 

P.K. Yonge finished the season 16-4, won the District 2-3A title, and advanced to the Region 1-3A final before being edged 64-58 at Providence (Jacksonville). Despite that tough region final loss, the Blue Wave captured their 19th district title under long-time head coach Willie Powers. 

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Powers had another successful season despite having only eight players most of the season. That led to the term “eight is enough” being given to this Blue Wave team. 

Photo by C.J. Gish P.K. Yonge’s Ashlyn Young (left) and Bradford’s Ar’nayshia Griffin were both named to the All Area team.

But there was no doubt who led the team this season. 

Sophomore guard Zion McRae averaged 21.9 points a game, adding four rebounds and 2.5 steals per contest. 

“Zion (McRae) had a very good year and helped carry our team to the Elite Eight,” Powers said. “She scored on all three levels for us this year.”

McRae was helped by freshman guard/forward Ashlyn Young. Young trailed only McRae in scoring on the P.K. Yonge team, averaging 15.5 a game, but led the Blue Wave with 10.6 rebounds and five assists per contest as well as 3.5 steals. 

“Ashlyn Young is one of the most unselfish basketball players I have ever coached,” Powers added. “She did it all for the Blue Wave this year. Whatever our team needed she did for us to win.”

Joining the two P.K. Yonge players on the first team is Gainesville senior guard Leyah Houston. Houston led the Hurricanes to a 15-8 record and a District 2-6A title. Gainesville rallied to beat Niceville in the Region 1-6A quarterfinal before dropping a 49-47 heartbreaker to Land O’Lakes in the region semifinals. 

Houston led Gainesville with 14.5 points and was second on the team with 5.3 rebounds and 1.4 steals per game. 

This was a bit of a disappointing season for Buchholz. The Bobcats finished 9-10 and lost in the District 2-6A semifinals to Lincoln (Tallahassee), keeping them out of the state playoffs. 

Photo by C.J. Gish Buchholz’s Jamison Cardwell averaged a team-leading 20.6 points per game for the Bobcats.

But sophomore Jamison Cardwell was a standout for Buchholz, averaging 20.6 points a game. That was enough to also make Cardwell a first-team selection. 

The final member of the first team is center Dezaray Bright of Keystone Heights. 

The Indians finished the season 16-9 and just missed out on the state playoffs after a 54-52 loss to North Marion (Citra) in the District 5-4A semifinals. 

Bright, a 5-foot-10 senior, averaged a double-double with 12.5 points and 14 rebounds a game, and chipped in two assists and 3.5 steals a contest. 

“Dezaray Bright is a big presence under the basket,” Keystone Heights coach Jessica Carter said. “She had 20 double-doubles out of 24 games. She never let the size of another player intimidate her, it just made her go harder.”

Two more Gainesville players lead the second-team selections.

Sophomore guard Jayden Terry was second behind Houston in scoring for the Hurricanes with 14.2 points per game. She added 1.9 rebounds, 1.4 assists and 1.2 steals per contest. 

The second Hurricane player selected to the second team is senior center Ta’Niyah Walker. Walker scored 8.1 points and led Gainesville with 6.2 rebounds per game. 

The second team also features two representatives from the Bradford (Starke) Tornadoes. Despite a 10-12 record, Bradford was selected for the 3A state playoffs. The Tornadoes were beaten in the Region 1-3A quarterfinal, 58-46, by eventual state semifinalist Providence. 

Junior point guard Jada Hankerson led Bradford with 16 points a game while adding five rebounds and four assists per contest.

Keystone Heights Dezaray Bright
Photo by C.J. Gish Keystone Heights’ Dezaray Bright averaged a double-double for the Indians this season as she scored 12.5 points and pulled down 14 rebounds per game.

“Jada is a natural leader who wants to get better every day she steps in the gym,” Bradford athletic director Sampson Jackson said. “She understands the amount of attention to the details it takes to be successful and she continually strives to get it done.”

Freshman guard/forward Ar’nayshia Griffin scored 14 points and led the Tornadoes with eight rebounds a game while chipping in three assists per contest. 

“She’s (Arnayshia) the type of player that any coach looking to build a program would love to have in their program,” Jackson said. “She plays the game the right way and is still learning. She’s going to be a very valuable player for the coming years for our program.”

The final member of the second team is senior guard Kiley Channell of Keystone Heights. Channell filled up the stat sheet, leading the Indians with 13.2 points, 3.3 assists and 3.9 steals per game and second on the team behind Bright with 7.1 rebounds per contest. 

“Kiley Channell is an all-around player,” Carter said. “She can shoot, drive, dish, and even pull down rebounds. Her size never stopped her from going inside against the bigs. She was determined to always play three times her size.”

GIRLS – BIG SCHOOL (3A-6A) (1st Team) 
G – Ashlyn Young, P.K. Yonge (Freshman)
G – Zion McRae, P.K. Yonge (Sophomore)
G/F – Jamison Cardwell, Buchholz (Sophomore)
G/F – Leyah Houston, GHS (Senior)
F/C – Dezaray Bright, Keystone Heights (Senior)

GIRLS – BIG SCHOOL (3A-6A) (2nd Team) 
G – Jayden Terry, GHS (Sophomore)
G – Kiley Channell, Keystone Heights (Senior)
G/F – Jada Hankerson, Bradford (Junior)
G/F – Ar’Nayshia Griffin, Bradford (Freshman)
F/C – Ta’Niyah Walker, GHS (Senior)

Honorable mentions:                        

Buchholz – Toni-noel Levy-Davis (Sr., G/F)
Columbia – Ayesha Broxey (So., F), Jolena Gardner (So., G/F), Eriel Baker (So., G/F)
Eastside – Kira Martin (So., G), Aniya West (Jr., G/F), Kathleen Reid (Sr., F)
P.K. Yonge – Reniyah Clark (Jr., G/F), Ilayzia Wilcox (Sr., G)
Suwannee – Amyah Jones (Sr., F), Janeah Mitchell (So., G), Shadavia Jones, (Jr., F)

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