Graceville set to end 25 year drought with trip to State Finals

Published: Feb. 20, 2023 at 6:34 PM CST
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PANAMA CITY, Fla. (WJHG/WECP) -Two area teams are getting set to load up the bus Tuesday and head south to Lakeland, site of the State Finals. Both Ponce De Leon and Graceville playing in the 1A State Semifinals Wednesday. Let’s focus on the latter for now. Coach Jon Habali and his Tigers with a 16-6 regular season, with three of those losses to Rutherford and Geneva, teams in much bigger classes. Graceville went on to win two more in the district tourney, and two more in the region semis and finals. So at 20-4 now, they’re preparing to face 23-1 Wildwood Wednesday night for a shot at a berth in the 1A title game. “It’s been a great season,” coach Habali told us Monday via Zoom “the commitment has been tremendous from these girls. From summertime, Thanksgiving break to Christmas break, they’ve been there every day. They’ve put the work in and it’s starting to show on the court with these girls. Starting with punctuality. Punctuality, showing up on time to practice, putting the work in at practice. And being there for your teammates. I mean this group loves each other, they play for each other. And understanding that you go a lot longer with a team game then you will playing individually.”

The last time Graceville won a district title was in 2011. The last time the team made it to the state finals, 1998, so a 25 year gap there. Coach Habali says all that has more than just the players, coaches and family members fired up in and around the school!

“It’s been tremendous, I did not realize the outpouring of love and support we would receive. The fans are behind us, the community, communities around us are behind us. It’s just been a great experience so far and some thing to build off of. Our whole entire school can build off of this. It’s extremely exciting, and it should be. But we also want to stay grounded because we understand that we’re going down here to play a game. So we’re trying to keep a level head. The excitement is pretty much over now, we had an exciting weekend and we just enjoyed it. But now it’s time to get on the court and play basketball. "

The team will load up and head south Tuesday morning at ten. If they win, and Ponce De Leon beats Hawthorne in their semifinal Wednesday, the two panhandle schools will face each other in Thursday’s title game.