Prose and Kohn: Ryan Kohn
It is not high school basketball season in Lakewood Ranch until “Mustang Madness” is held.
For the third-consecutive year, Lakewood Ranch High hosted the season kickoff event, this year on Nov. 14. The boys and girls teams had intra-squad scrimmages and a 3-point contest, and the boys also held a dunk contest.
The event included fan competitions, such as a half-court shot contest that would have netted the winner a $500 Nike gift card — if anyone had been able to find the net, that is.
Senior forward Joshua Young won the dunk contest with a baseline 360-degree slam in the first round and a 180-degree slam off a lob pass to himself in the second.
“I planned the first dunk,” Young said. “I had to improvise the second dunk.”
Personally, I think junior guard Christian Shaneyfelt had the singular best dunk of the night — a leap over assistant coach Brady Roberts, who was seated in a chair. Shaneyfelt could not land a dunk in the second round though, so Young earned the edge for his consistency.
Shaneyfelt and Young are two parts of the Mustangs’ core, and will play alongside junior guard Keon Buckley, junior guard Luke Lecroy and junior guard Christian Perez. Following the graduation of former “big three” Damien Gordon, Evan Spiller and Jack Kelley. Head coach Jeremy Schiller expects those five players to transition smoothly into primetime roles.
“At this stage, this might be the most competitive, engaged and committed team I have ever been a part of,” Schiller said.
The boys are playing a typically tough schedule, just how Schiller likes it, and Schiller said the team will win the same way it always has, using tight defense, fast-paced offense and by outworking opponents.
“I think we are going to be good,” Young said. “We are pretty familiar with the system, and we worked harder than we ever have over the offseason.”
Besides, some of the spirit of last year’s senior class remains.
The team’s pregame playlist is filled with Michael Jackson songs, a tradition Spiller started in the locker room last season.
The Mustangs girls team is in its second year under coach Melanie Johnson, but who said it still feels like her first season in some respects. Last year’s team, which went 18-8 but fell 50-49 in the district tournament to Sarasota High, was senior-driven. The current team is inexperienced, replacing four starters (Emma Fazio, Sarah Fazio, India Searls and Kayla Bell).
Johnson said she is excited to “put her thumbprint” on players for four years instead of inheriting an already developed roster.
Freshman Hannah Pruszinske will be the team’s starter at point guard, and she is one of many players Johnson is excited about. Others with enormous potential are junior Doris Brooks and senior Makenna Tschetter, who transferred to the school from Starr’s Mill High in Fayetteville, Ga. Taylor Young, Josh Young's freshman sister, is also on the team.
Johnson’s expectations for her team have not changed in spite of its inexperience.
“We always want to compete for a district championship,” Johnson said. “We want to keep learning and growing and building a solid foundation for girls in our area.”
The boys team begins its regular season at 7:30 p.m. Dec. 5 at Lakewood High in St. Petersburg, while the girls will start at home against Imagine School North Port at 7 p.m. Nov. 26.