LAKELAND, Fla. (WJHG/WECP) - For most athletes, playing in a Final Four is a once in a career achievement.
Girls basketball players at Holmes and Port St. Joe are not ordinary athletes at ordinary programs.
The sharks are heading to Lakeland this week for their fourth final four in five years, while Holmes is going for the third time in four seasons.
The Lady Devils depart with a 23-4 record, set to take on Hawthorne (27-2) Wednesday afternoon as winners of eleven of their last 12 games. Everything they've accomplished, from including a district title and gritty playoff wins which include a double overtime thriller over Paxton, is impressive considering the injury woes they've overcome.
Seniors Kinzie Nelson and Cheyenne Glass and juniors Akiela Farrow and Ava Byrd combine to average 42 points and 25 rebounds per game. They've all missed time or played through pain recently. Adversity makes you stronger...so does state semifinal experience.
"My first year as a freshman, I went to state with them and I was really nervous when he first put me out on that court," Nelson said. "I feel like going again--this will be my third--I'm less nervous. When I go into the game, it comes easy. You just go and go. And the team moving the ball around, we do good together. They can lean on my shoulder when they need to."
"Last year we went into it a little inexperienced, we had two freshman starters, so that was different," Katy Jo Bomann explained. "I had never played on the court either, so that's four people who had never touched the floor besides one of them so it was different getting used to it but we adjusted well.
"Right when you first start the game you're a little nervous but once you start playing our team really comes together. Working hard, it's pretty much what we do."
The Lady Devils also have experience against tough competition. Much of their schedule has been played up in class, registering wins against the likes of Fort Walton Beach, Walton, Bay, and Godby. It's all part of a strategy to make the team better no matter what it thrown at them late in the season.
"I like to do it because we don't have a lot of speed and quickness," head coach Devon Miles admitted. "We're playing speed that you don't see in 1A ball and I can't get out here and emulate in practice and really work in breaking the press like you can in a game. I can't find kids around the school that can run like those kids at Bay High or Godby, but the downside is you get beat up and banged up."
Games tip Wednesday afternoon. Port St. Joe (25-5) plays first at 2 ET against Madison (22-6), followed by HCHS against Hawthorne.
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