When this year’s senior members of the Pine Forest girls basketball team began their high school careers, the bar already was set high for them, as the Eagles were riding a five-year streak of making the state playoffs.
Seemingly impossible at the time, this group of Eagles have managed to push that bar even higher.
After finishing as the Class 6A state runner-up last season, the Eagles are off to a 20-0 start and have earned a No. 1 ranking in Class 6A in the state of Florida this year.
As each season has been more successful, the Eagles have also become more tightly knit as a unit through the last four years.
Coach Chris Godwin credits this year’s team for holding the highest amount of team chemistry she has experienced in her tenure.
“We talk about it as a team all the time … these girls wanna know how they fare compared to other successful teams I’ve coached,” Godwin said. “Not to take anything away from my teams in the past, but these girls have just played together so much.
“What I like about this year is that these girls seem more together — basketball has changed.”
Look at Pine Forest’s starting five and you’ll see the make-up of a well balanced team, most of which are two- and three-year starters.
A true floor general in point guard Ty Purifoy. Strong shooting and slashing ability from Laneisha Jeans and Tylan Carter, and a powerful inside presence from Jymetrea Jones and Britney Snowden.
And according to Godwin, that’s just the beginning of the team’s identity.
“This year, we are able to go to the bench and have girls come in and almost do the same as the starting players,” Godwin said. “They don’t get noticed as much, but some of our bench players get the same playing time as the starters. I try to remind the girls: It’s not about if you start, it’s about your minutes and what you do with them.”
The entire Pine Forest team has embraced the unselfish attitude and yielded an unbreakable bond on and off the court.
“That’s the family aspect they have together,” said Godwin, referring to the team’s closeness. “I think it says a lot about what kind of girls we have. They always cheer for each other when they come off the court. They always want to be together. I think people around school notice that they are always together.”
Purifoy and the rest of the Eagles agree.
“It’s like a sisterly bond,” the four-year starter said. “We go out to eat together and we go to parties together. The night before the game against Pensacola High, all the girls stayed the night at my house. We didn’t even talk basketball, we just usually talk about us.”
It appears that the bond is so tight, it helps relieve some of the pressures of holding the No. 1 spot in the state.
“It’s more of a satisfaction (being ranked No. 1) than a pressure,” Purifoy said. “Coach Godwin told us that we could be her first undefeated team. We got far last year, but a state championship is the goal — you can’t get further than that.”
But Godwin admits to feeling some heightened pressure, and credits her assistant coach for helping to keep their girls confident, but not cocky throughout the season.
“When you are on top, everyone is trying to knock you down,” the veteran coach said. “Last year, we were trying to prove ourselves in a lot of games. This year, I think it’s more pressure trying to stay on top rather than trying to get there.”
But just like the players benefit from Godwin’s presence, it seems like the Eagles do everything they can for their coach, too.
Jones said the team doesn’t let anybody or anything come in between them.
“We are all very close with coach, and we play out there for her,” Jones said. “We are a winning team, we hate losing and so does (Coach Godwin). When we mess up, we know we have to make up for it. We may argue with coach sometimes, but we always try to make up for it with our play on the court.”
With Thursday night’s win over Tate, the Eagles are just now two wins away from an unbeaten regular season.
Pine Forest will look to carry momentum from its exemplary season into the District 1-6A tournament, beginning Jan. 27 at Pine Forest.