Last year the area finished without a girls basketball state champion or a state semifinalist.
However, this year expect the hoops season for the ladies to be much improved.
Hawthorne, which lost to Ponce De Leon in the 2021 Class 1A state championship game, lost at top seed Wildwood in last year’s 1A-Region 4 Final.
That’s the closest the area came to having a team among the final four.
Gainesville (6A), Keystone Heights (4A), P.K. Yonge (3A), Oak Hall School (2A), and 1A schools Fort White, Newberry and Trenton all made the playoffs, but all seven lost in the first round of the state playoffs.
GHS defeated Columbia (Lake City) in last year’s 6A-District 3 title game.
The defending district champions will be a threat in 2022-23 thanks to the return of Leyah Houston, who led the area in scoring as a junior with 22.6 points, nine rebounds, and almost three assists per game.
The Hurricanes (14-8) also return Ta’Niya Walker, who averaged a double-double with 11 points and 10 boards per game as a junior.
However, Jazlynd Rollins is the new head coach of the Lady Hurricanes in 2022-23, plus the ‘Canes move into a new 6A-District 2 league with rival Buchholz, Chiles (Tallahassee), Leon (Tallahassee), Lincoln (Tallahassee), and Mosley (Lynn Haven).
Columbia, which will be young this season, will compete in 5A-District 2 with Baker County (Glen St. Mary), Clay (Green Cove Springs), Middleburg, Rickards (Tallahassee), and Ridgeview (Orange Park).
A couple of their key losses include Na’Haviya Paxton (now playing at Florida Southern College), Camille Perry (Florida Gateway College-GFF), and Anzarria Jerkins (US Army).
“This is truly a new chapter for Columbia High School’s girls basketball team this year,” said Columbia coach Anthony Perry. “As a coaching staff we are looking forward to the challenge. This young group of players will become a pain in the side for everyone over the next few years.”
Buchholz (10-13), which is coached by Niya Johnson, returns Jamison Cardwell.
Last year, Cardwell was a 2nd team All-Area selection (3A-6A) after averaging 12.3 points per game (PPG).
Keystone Heights, which finished 19-5, returns the inside-outside game of guard Kiley Channell and center Dezaray Bright.
Bright averaged eight points and 11 boards per 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 after her junior season. “She dominates the paint inside in rebounds and is one of the most unselfish players on our team.”
The duo are back for their senior season and look to go out on top after falling to Dunnellon, 58-46, in last year’s 4A-District 4 championship game.
The Indians move to 4A-District 5 this season and will compete with Eastside, Santa Fe, Suwannee (Live Oak), Palatka, and North Marion (Citra).
P.K. Yonge (8-7), which only played 15 games due to COVID-19 issues but still made the playoffs, will be short on numbers, young (only one senior), but talented.
Zion Mcrae (19 points, 2 assists, 2 steals) is back for her sophomore year, while Ashlyn Young (12 points, 5 assists, 3 steals as an 8th-grader) is only a freshman.
“Having only eight varsity players this year will be a challenge with depth,” said long-time P.K. Yonge coach Willie Powers, who won his 500th game two years ago with the Blue Wave. “We will have to execute and play great defense this year.”
P.K. Yonge is in 3A-District 2 with Bradford (Starke), Trinity Catholic (Ocala) and Taylor County (Perry).
Trenton (17-10), which lost by four to Hawthorne in last year’s 1A regional semifinals, won its 90th straight district game, and its seventh straight district title.
However, the Tigers have a new head coach as Lynsey Grant takes over for Bryant Frye.
Chloe Wilkerson (6.7 PPG and 5.8 rebounds) is the only returning starter for the Lady Tigers and one of only two roster players back.
Trenton will compete in 1A-District 7 with Wildwood, Williston, Chiefland, Dixie County (Cross City), Bronson, and Cedar Key.
DeShay Harris of Fort White was named the Mainstreet Daily News Small School Coach of the Year after leading the Indians to a record number of wins (17), its most consecutive wins (11 straight), and their first district championship in school history.
Fort White (17-3) will be competing in 1A-District 6 with Hawthorne, Newberry, Bell and Union County (Lake Butler).
Hawthorne should be in the mix again in 1A under head coach Cornelius Ingram.
The Hornets (16-6) return Jaz’lyn Jackson, who led the team with 10.4 PPG as a junior, and rising sophomore De’Mya Adams (10.3 PPG).