Most area big school girls basketball teams struggled during the 2021-22 season, but Gainesville High School (GHS) was not among them. The Hurricanes finished the year 14-8 and captured the District 3-6A title.
The two GHS players most responsible for the team’s strong season headline the second Mainstreet Daily News All Area Basketball Team for small school girls.
For the second year in a row, junior Leyah Houston led the area in scoring, putting up 22.6 points, nine rebounds, and almost three assists a game.
"She is an outstanding player on and off the court," Gainesville coach David Gordon said. "Her basketball skills and knowledge allowed the team to meet the goals that we attained."
Houston had averaged 21 points and 10 rebounds as a sophomore the previous season.
Joining Houston on the first team is teammate Ta'Niya Walker. Also a junior, Walker averaged a double-double with 11 points and 10 boards a contest.
“She entered this season with the attitude and goal of making this a special season," Gordon said. "She approached practices and games with a high energy level and showed her dedication to help the team."
Joining the two Hurricanes standouts is P.K. Yonge (Gainesville) freshman Zion McRae. McRae was one of the area's leading scorers, averaging 18 points a game for a Blue Wave team that only played 15 games due to COVID issues but made the 3A playoffs, losing a close 62-58 decision at Foundation Academy (Winter Garden).
McRae was named the FACA 3A player of the year for District 7 and scored 30 points three times—against Gainesville, North Marion (Citra), and Episcopal (Jacksonville).
Columbia (Lake City) had a disappointing 7-14 record, after advancing to the postseason in 2021. But you can't blame senior Na'Haviya Paxton, who led the Tigers with 15.4 points, 9.1 rebounds, five assists and 4.8 rebounds per game. Paxton earned a spot on the first team as a guard/forward.
The final member of the first team is Eastside (Gainesville) senior guard Seiiona Peeples. The Rams also missed the playoffs with an 11-13 record, but Peeples led the team with 16.4 points and nine rebounds per contest.
Two Keystone Heights players highlight the second team. Junior guard Kiley Channell led the Indians to a 19-6 record and a playoff berth while averaging 12 points, 7.3 rebounds, 4.3 assists and 4.7 steals per game.
"She is an outstanding all-around athlete and leader on the court," Keystone Heights coach Jessica Carter says. "She will take it to the hoop with no fear and is a big part of the Keystone team."
Teammate Dezaray Bright, a junior center, joins Channell on the second team. Bright averaged eight points and 11 boards a game for the Indians, who lost in the opening round of the 4A playoffs to eventual state-semifinalist Bishop Kenny (Jacksonville).
"Dezaray is a beast of an athlete," Carter said. "She dominates the paint inside in rebounds, and is one of the most unselfish players on our team."
Two more P.K. Yonge players earn second-team honors as well. Senior guard Chayse Williams, who averaged just a shade under 10 points and 6.6 rebounds per game, went over 1,000 points for her Blue Wave career this season.
Ashlyn Young, an 8th-grader, joins Williams on the second team. Young nearly averaged a double-double with 9.5 points and 10.1 rebounds a game.
The final member of the second team is Buchholz freshman guard/forward Jamison Cardwell. The Bobcats failed to follow up on their district title in 2021, going only 10-13 this season. But Cardwell stepped in and immediately led Buchholz with 12.3 points and 6.5 rebounds per contest.
A panel of local sportswriters and coaches chose the All Area teams from Mainstreet's eight-county coverage area. All 44 players and coaches will receive commemorative plaques to recognize their outstanding seasons.
GIRLS - BIG SCHOOL (3A-6A) (1st Team)
G – Seiiona Peeples, Eastside (Senior)
G – Zion McRae, P.K. Yonge (Freshman)
G/F – Leyah Houston, Gainesville (Junior)
G/F– Na'Haviya Paxton, Columbia (Senior)
C – Ta’Niya Walker, Gainesville (Junior)
GIRLS - BIG SCHOOL (3A-6A) (2nd Team)
G – Kiley Channell, Keystone Heights (Junior)
G – Chayse Williams, P.K. Yonge (Senior)
G/F – Ashlyn Young, P.K. Yonge (8th-Grade)
G/F – Jamison Cardwell, Buchholz (Freshman)
C – Dezaray Bright, Keystone Heights (Junior)
Buchholz: Tyra Peterson (Sr., G/F), Emonie McCallum (Sr., G)
Columbia: Annzarria Jerkins (Sr., G), Camille Perry (Sr., G), Joleana Gardner (Fr., G/F)
Eastside: Karonda Kelly (Sr., G)
Keystone Heights: Emma Rogel (Sr., G)
P.K. Yonge: Sydney English (Sr., G)
Suwannee: V’Kaylynn Ward (Sr., G/F)
This is the second in a five-part series on the 2022 Mainstreet Daily News All Area Basketball Team, sponsored by Smith Law Firm (girls teams) and Smith Asset Management Company (boys teams). To read about the small school girls team, click here.