PORT ST. JOE, Fla. (WJHG/WECP) - High school athletes strive to play for a state championship. Few ever get close.
The Port St. Joe (19-10) girls basketball team is in elite company, loading up the bus and beginning the trip to Lakeland on Sunday morning for their second straight trip to the Final Four.
Last season was the program's first appearance at the Final Four.
The Sharks beat Paxton in the semifinal but lost to Wildwood in the championship game.
This time, the trip begins with a semifinal game against Trenton (25-3) at noon ET.
There's some unfinished business for seniors Quinci Elphinstone, Antiuana Croom, and the others who made the trip, like leading score Jae Lenox, an eighth graded averaging more than 17 points per game.
This is (still) a young team,featuring four middle schoolers and three freshmen. Given the team's history though, does previous experience help?
"It should. They're so young, it don't bother them," head coach Kenny Parker said. "They think they're supposed to be there. I can't tell right now...I'll know Monday! But they've matured, started to play together, and our defense got better."
Everything got better as the season went along, not just the defense.
After losing six of their first eleven games, the Sharks rebounded to win 14 of their next 18 games. They players never doubted themselves.
"Any time you go to the Final Four is a big deal and as young as they [are]...I don't know, they expected to go. They're excited."
The Holmes Blue Devils (21-6) join Port St. Joe in central Florida. They hit the floor first at 10 a.m. ET against Hawthorne (22-4), with the winners playing in the championship game Tuesday at 2 p.m. local time.