The Lakewood Ranch High girls basketball team just keeps getting better.
On the verge of clinching the No. 1 seed in the Class 7A-District 11 tournament, the Mustangs have seven players in their starting rotation, LaDazhia Williams, Aleah Robinson, Kailyn Scully, India Searls, Elise Spiller, Kyra Klarkowski and Sarah Fazio, who are capable of scoring anywhere on the floor.
Those seven girls have combined for 1,054 of Lakewood Ranch’s 1,154 points through the first 20 games of the season with Williams averaging 14.2 points per game and Robinson and Scully averaging 11.89 and 11.05 points per game, respectively.
It’s on the defensive side where Lakewood Ranch has stepped up. With Williams missing seven games earlier this season while nursing an ankle injury, the Mustangs were forced to increase their intensity, particularly in the half court.
The result was a 5-2 record during the stretch without their leading scorer.
Led by Scully, Lakewood is averaging 13 steals a game while hauling in 26.9 rebounds. In doing so, the Mustangs have eliminated many second-chance opportunities.
In Lakewood Ranch’s most recent victory over district rival Sarasota Jan. 5, the Mustangs forced 25 turnovers. They also held the Sailors, who beat Lakewood Ranch three times last season, off the scoreboard for nearly six minutes of the first quarter.
The Mustangs are 6-0 in the district after holding opponents to an average of 27.8 points per game. On the flip side, Lakewood Ranch is averaging 59.7 points during that same six-game stretch.
“Defense has been our focal point all season,” Lakewood Ranch coach Tina Hadley said. “We have improved over the season and our girls are starting to buy into the concept that defense has to be a priority if we want to eventually compete for a state championship. We still have some areas that need improvement, but I am happy with what we have achieved thus far.”
The Mustangs, who are ranked No. 2 in Class 7A in the latest Florida Association of Basketball Coaches/Source Hoops Girls State Rankings, notched their 16th win of the season Jan. 7 with a 61-54 victory against a Palm Harbor University squad that only had three previous losses.
Williams scored 22 points and added eight rebounds and three steals to lead Lakewood Ranch, which scored 25 points in the fourth quarter. Klarkowski added 14 points and hauled in five rebounds and Scully contributed 11 points and six rebounds.
With only three games remaining against Venice, North Port and Bayshore, Lakewood Ranch is on pace to reach 20 wins for only the third time in school history and for the first time during the regular season. The Mustangs beat all three opponents earlier this season by a combined 200-78.
Lakewood Ranch entered the season with unfinished business after narrowly falling to Fort Myers in the Class 7A-Region 3 finals last season. Now, theMustangs, who are averaging 60.5 points per game, are poised to make a run toward district and regional titles.
Four Lakewood Ranch girls soccer team seniors played their final regular season game Jan. 7.
Defender Julia Ortiz, goalkeeper Danielle Wilson, midfielder Conli Schwartz and defender Nicole Wurster were honored before the start of Lakewood Ranch’s non-district match against Cardinal Mooney, which served as the Mustangs' Senior Night.
Ortiz, a member of Lakewood Ranch's varsity squad since her freshman year, scored her team's lone goal in a 1-1 tie. Wilson, a four-year varsity player, has been Lakewood's starting goalkeeper since her sophomore year, while starters Schwartz and Wurster both have been integral to Lakewood Ranch's success this season.
The top-seeded Mustangs hosted No. 4 seed Sarasota in the Class 5A-District 8 semifinals Jan. 12 with the winner advancing to the district championship Jan. 15. The opponent in that game is the winner of the other semifinal between No. 2 Manatee and No. 3 Riverview.
Lakewood Ranch is seeking its sixth district championship in seven years after Venice snapped the Mustangs’ streak of five consecutive district championships last season.
With the AAU season scheduled to begin in March, Liberty Edge Youth Basketball is seeking players in grades seven through 12 for its travel ball teams.
The league will hold tryouts for its boys and girls travel basketball teams Jan. 16 and Jan. 17, at The Out-of-Door Academy, 5950 Deer Drive, Sarasota.
Former NBA player and current ODA boys basketball coach Marcus Liberty will be heading the program along with former Phoenix Suns center Daniel Santiago, who currently plays for the Puerto Rican national team and Cangrejeros de Santurce, a Puerto Rican professional basketball team.
Tryouts will be held at 8:30 a.m. Jan. 16 for boys and girls in seventh and eighth grades, and noon Jan. 17 for players in grades nine through 12. Cost is $25 per player and $35 for walk-ups.
For more information visit MarcusLiberty.com.