SARASOTA — The Sarasota High girls basketball team isn’t fueled by four years of experience.
But what the Lady Sailors lack in overall skill level this season, they’ve more than made up for in hard work and dedication.
After losing seven seniors to graduation last year, Sarasota entered the 2012-13 season not quite sure what to expect.
But now, led by host of sophomores and juniors, the Lady Sailors are proving that youth and inexperience don’t necessarily translate into a lost season.
In fact, Sarasota is in the middle of one of its most impressive seasons in recent years.
“They are what I would say is the hardest-working group that I’ve had,” coach Rob Jutras says. “They aren’t necessarily what I would call the most talented, but they are the most together group that I’ve had. They’ve worked hard to achieve what they’ve done this season.
“I’m not surprised by this group,” Jutras says. “I think we run a pretty good system, and now some of the (younger) girls are getting a chance to play.”
Seventeen games into the regular season, the Lady Sailors are 14-3, having posted double-digit victories in 11 of their 14 wins.
“I think we are doing really well,” junior forward Emily Harding says. “I was happily surprised.”
Teammate and co-captain Sarah Bradtmueller agrees.
“It’s really amazing that we’ve been so successful with such a young team,” Bradtmueller says.
The Lady Sailors opened the season a perfect 12-0 before suffering their first loss of the season to Southeast Dec. 20. Sarasota’s only other two losses came in the first two games of the Queen of Palms Classic Dec. 27 through Dec. 28.
“The (key) to this team’s success is its willingness to work and focus on playing good defense each night,” Jutras says. “When we haven’t won, it’s because we haven’t been playing good defense.”
Over the past few weeks, the Lady Sailors have dealt with several injuries, which have forced them to play with only seven players at times. The injuries have worn on the players, but the girls admit it’s also been a learning experience for some of the younger players.
“We’ve all had to play a lot,” Harding says. “In practice we haven’t (always) been able to play five-on-five, so it’s hard to simulate game situations. In the Southeast game, some of the younger players were put into situations at the end where it was a really tight game. It’s definitely been a learning experience for all of us to be in those situations.”
It’s been two years since the Lady Sailors last won a district championship — a season in which they advanced to the regional championship.
Now, with six games remaining on the schedule, including three consecutive district games, the Lady Sailors have their sights set on securing the No. 1 seed in the Class 7A-District 11 tournament and advancing one step closer to winning a district championship and completing a 20-plus win regular season.
“This year our focus is on winning a district championship and going out and competing every night,” Jutras says.
“We are more together this year,” Bradtmueller says. “Last year we had a lot of really good players, but we didn’t (win the district title).”
In addition, the Lady Sailors want to continue to protect their home court. Sarasota is 40-6 at home over the past four years and hasn’t lost a game at home since February 2011.
“I’m really proud of them,” Jutras says. “For as young as they are, they understand the importance of protecting their home court, which is not (always) easy to do.”
Contact Jen Blanco at [email protected].