Last year was not a great year overall for girls basketball in the area.
While a total of five Alachua County teams (Class 1A schools Hawthorne and Newberry, 2A Oak Hall, 3A P.K. Yonge and 6A GHS) and three additional area teams (Fort White and Trenton in 1A and Keystone Heights in 4A) made the state playoffs, they went a combined 1-7 in their respective opening rounds.
The only victory in last year’s state playoffs for teams in the Mainstreet Daily News coverage area was Hawthorne’s 43-39 win against Trenton, followed by the Hornets’ 60-26 loss at Wildwood in the 1A-Region 4 Final.
It’s kind of the usual suspects in girls basketball this year, but this time they are primed to go further.
Newberry (20-4) won 20 games for the first time since 2012. The Panthers finished 13-10 last season in Newberry coach Dameon Hughes’ third season.
“We had a great regular season,” Hughes said. “I didn’t realize we had something special until we won like eight games in a row. I think it was leading up to Christmas break. I just felt our team and coaches were on the same page.”
Senior Deasia Bryant (10.8 points per game) is one of four returning starters but they’ve received a big lift from freshman Brandy Whitfield, who leads the team in scoring (14.9 ppg).
“We have a group of players who have been playing together for about two to three years now,” Hughes said. “When you have some other good players that adds to that it’s something special to coach.”
The Panthers will be the No. 1 seed in 1A-District 6 and will host the winner of Tuesday’s game between Union County (Lake Butler) and Bell in Wednesday’s district semifinals.
But standing in the way of their first district title since 2017 is Hawthorne (9-5), which is the No. 2 seed and will host No. 3 seed Fort White in the other district semifinal.
Senior Jaz’lyn Jackson (17 ppg) and sophomore De’Mya Adams (16.9 ppg), who made the Mainstreet Daily News All Area first and second team, respectively, last year, are among the scoring leaders in the area.
The district championship game is on Friday night.
“We must play good basketball, play well on defense and play smart on offense,” Hughes said about what it will take to win the district title. “The main thing is to be who we have been all year, Newberry Panthers, playing our style of basketball.”
Trenton will host the 1A-District 7 tournament.
The Lady Tigers (15-10), which are led by first-year coach Lynsey Grant, are the No. 2 seed and will play number No. 7 seed Bronson at 8 p.m. on Monday.
Top seed Wildwood, which is ranked fifth in the latest regional all-classification rankings, likely awaits the winner of that game in Thursday’s district championship game.
Oak Hall, which is led by long-time coach Eric Ringdahl, earned the number two seed in 2A-District 4 and will host either No. 3 Countryside Christian or No. 6 Redeemer Christian on Wednesday in the district semifinals.
Despite only having eight total players, P.K. Yonge finished 13-3 and is currently the No. 1 seed in 3A-Region 1. The Lady Blue Wave will receive a bye and play either Trinity Catholic (Ocala) or Bradford (Starke) in Friday’s 3A-District 2 Final.
“We will have to play one of our best games of the season defensively and offensively to win the district championship,” noted P.K. Yonge coach Willie Powers.
Keystone Heights, which returned its top two scorers from last year, is the No. 1 seed in 4A-District 5. The Indians (16-8) will play either No. 4 seed North Marion (Citra) or No. 5 seed Eastside in Wednesday’s district semifinals.
Another school with a first-year coach, Gainesville High, secured the No. 1 seed in 6A-District 2 in Jazlynd Rollins’ first year.
The Lady Hurricanes (12-7), who moved into The Prep Zone Power Poll Top 20 today, will play either No. 4 seed Buchholz or No. 5 Lincoln (Tallahassee) in Wednesday’s district semifinals.
Senior Leyah Houston, a first team big school All Area selection last year, leads the team (14.5 ppg), while first team selection Ta’Niya Walker leads the team in rebounding (6.3).
The FHSAA regional playoffs begin next Thursday, Feb. 9.