There’s a boys basketball team in Cape Coral to keep an eye on, and it’s not who you think.
While Mariner will likely, and rightly, continue its reputation as one of the best programs in Southwest Florida, their rival to the southeast, the Seahawks, are slowly catching up.
A season ago, Cape Coral lost eight games by under 10 points to finish 14-11, which included a first-round exit in the district playoffs to eventual champion Port Charlotte.
But the Seahawks, who moved up to District 7A-10 and last qualified for a region postseason berth in 2013-14, return with a few things on their side.
Coach Brandon Sensor, a former five-year assistant at Lehigh under Dawn McNew, is back in his second year and has learned a few things from his debut campaign. And then there are the Seahawks, who return seven players, including senior Brandon Alcide.
By season’s end, the point guard could turn into one of the area’s best players.
“A year of the system, a year of me knowing the players and me learning,” Sensor said. “I feel like because the players are getting better, hopefully we can get a few of those games back. That would be our goal. We want to win some, but we want to win the games we’re not supposed to win, too.”
Sensor is likely referring to Port Charlotte, which the Seahawks lost to three times last year. But Cape Coral closed the gap each time, from a 25 point loss in December, to a 17 point setback in January, to an eight point deficit in February that saw the Seahawks leading by 13 points in the third quarter.
“We’re right there,” Sensor said. “I feel like some of it, at the time, was a lack of leadership, experience, veterans.”
Sensor’s Cape Coral team, like Lehigh before it, underwent some changes last year. They sped up the game to an uncomfortable pace on offense, hoping to press opposing teams with the kind of energy that you just can’t replicate, then doubled-down on defense, dispatching an array of bodies on a full-court charge.
It was a mixed bag.
In Year 2, the Seahawks expect that controlled “havoc” to continue, with Alcide orchestrating the offense from the top down.
“Last year we kind of played fast, but we weren’t used to it yet,” said Alcide, who averaged 13 points and two assists last season. “We usually never played fast. This year, we’re fast all around and there’s no slowing down.”
Cape Coral will be heavy with veterans, including senior guard Harwin Francois, who Sensor says “worked harder than anybody this offseason.”
Senior forward Alex Hyppolite is expected to be one of the team’s best defenders and rebounders, while guard Cam’Ron Blissett “is one of the best athletes I’ve ever seen,” Sensor said.
Cape Coral will also have shooters in junior Jonnathan Moreno and James Gibson, who is a transfer from a high school in Minnesota.
“I really feel we have kids who have worked hard and coaches who work hard,” Sensor said. “The athletic director (Thomas Kenna) — and former boys coach — says this is the year. I can’t fail or I’ll lose my job. I really think it is.”
In the process, the Seahawks could begin to close the gap on Mariner and start to make a mark in the city.
Will the Seahawks be one of the best teams in Southwest Florida?
“Yes,” Alcide said. “I think we’re on that level.”
Teams: Gulf Coast, North Port, Riverdale
Contenders: North Port, Gulf Coast
Athletes to watch: Joseph Ojeda (Jr., SF, Riverdale), Deishan Layne (Jr., SG, Riverdale), Dante Quintela (Jr., PG, Riverdale), Jacquory Dickerson (Jr., C, Riverdale)
Outlook: The Raiders saw their best player, The News-Press’ Player of the Year in 2015-16, Jacob Tracey, transfer to SFCA, but they return quite a bit of talent from last season. Layne and Quintela will form the backcourt, while Ojeda and Dickerson likely will be the centerpieces on both sides of the floor, especially from a defensive standpoint. Riverdale defeated North Port last season in the district championship game.
Teams: Cape Coral, Charlotte, Ida Baker, Island Coast, Lemon Bay, North Fort Myers, Port Charlott
Contenders: Cape Coral
Sleepers: North Fort Myers, Ida Baker
Athletes to watch: Sean Price (Sr., G, Port Charlotte), Brandon Alcide (Sr., PG, Cape Coral), Jordan Thomas (Sr., G, North Fort Myers), Devin Hanley (Sr., F, Ida Baker), Justin Moore (Sr., G/F, Island Coast), Robert Cobb (Sr., F, Ida Baker), Brandon King (Sr., G, North Fort Myers), Cam’Ron Blissett (Sr., G, Cape Coral), Smith Joseph (Sr., G, Island Coast), Andy Degurre (Sr., G, Ida Baker), Herbert Riggins (Sr., G, North Fort Myers)
Outlook: Port Charlotte returns one of the best players in Southwest Florida in Price, while North Fort Myers returns eight veteran players and Cape Coral features experience and talent, including Alcide, who could be a breakout player to watch. The Red Knights and Seahawks could push each other for the postseason. Island Coast and Ida Baker are breaking in first year coaches. The Red Knights, led by Thomas, could be a surprise contender to take the district.
Teams: Dunbar, East Lee, Estero, Fort Myers, Lehigh, South Fort Myers
Contenders: Lehigh, South Fort Myers, Fort Myers
Athletes to watch: Bershard Edwards (Jr., PG, Lehigh), Brandon Lewis (Sr., SG, South Fort Myers), Ralph Desire (Jr., G, Estero), Jarvis Martin (Sr., PF, Lehigh), Bensley Bornelus (Sr., F, Fort Myers), Joe Irizarry (Jr., F, East Lee), Trelin Jean-Francois (Sr., PF, South Fort Myers), Ryan Rocuant (Sr., C, Estero), Steve Walker (Jr., G, Dunbar), Jeshaun Jones (Jr., F, South Fort Myers), Jack Grella (Sr., PG, Estero), Nick Gentleman (Sr., F, Fort Myers)
Outlook: In a newly reformed district, which is a step up in classification for every team, games will be extremely competitive. A District 6A-11 runner-up last season, Lehigh looks to be the favorite. They will be led by Martin and Edwards, who have become the team’s de facto leaders following the death of student-athlete Stef’An Strawder, who was expected to be one of the best players in Southwest Florida. Lehigh is playing in two national tournaments, including The City of Palms and The Montverde Academy Invitational. Fort Myers, which is playing in the Wally Keller Classic, will be young, Dunbar is in rebuild mode and South Fort Myers and Estero could make a push for a second-place finish. The Wildcats return talent from last season, including the 6-foot-10 Rocuant, a preferred walk-on for FGCU.
Teams: Mariner, Lely, Immokalee, Cypress Lake
Sleepers: Cypress Lake, Immokalee, Lely
Mariner’s Jahmel Myers is an early candidate for Player of the Year in District 6A-12. (Photo: The News-Press)
Athletes to watch: Dominque Carpenter (Sr., G, Mariner), Tim Addison (Jr., G, Cypress Lake), (Brandon Kostyk (Sr., G, Mariner), Sean Kostyk (Sr., G, Mariner), Soni Coleus (Sr., G, Cypress Lake), (Amari Haynes (Sr., G, F), Jahmel Myers (Jr., F, Mariner), Keyon Brawnder (So., F, Cypress Lake), Nehemiah Darrett (Jr., F, Mariner)
Outlook: Mariner, who is slated to play in The City of Palms Classic, should be one of the best teams in Southwest Florida with the return of most of its lineup from its 25-win season a year ago. The Tritons’ offense will revolve around the 6-foot-6 Myers and the 6-foot-8 Haynes, though shooting will have its day, too. The Kostyk brothers, experienced veterans who played significant time on the court last season, will provide impeccable shooting. Cypress Lake is young but will look to compete.
Teams: Bishop Verot, CSN, Gateway Charter, LaBelle, Oasis, Saint John Neumann
Contenders: Community School of Naples
Sleepers: Bishop Verot, LaBelle
Athletes to watch: Cooper Weiss (Sr., G, CSN), Austin Mosbach (Sr., G, Bishop Verot), Enrique Hernandez (So., PG, LaBelle), Taylor Hutchins (So., G, Oasis), Justin Trunfio (Sr., F, CSN), Gabe Garcia (Jr., F, Bishop Verot), Kylar Frias (So., G, Oasis), Angel Vargas (Jr., G, LaBelle), Gabe Casey (Jr., G, Oasis), Jack Archambault (Sr., G, Bishop Verot)
Outlook: Community School of Naples enters the district with confidence after a successful run through the Class 3A playoffs last year, going as far as the final eight. After three straight winning seasons, LaBelle is rebuilding under third-year coach Zack Ward, who’s looking to claim his 50th win in 2017. Bishop Verot returns 10 lettermen and should be a contender for a playoff spot, but Saint John Neumann possesses an array of talent and will be extremely competitive.
Teams: ECS, Everglades City, FBA, Marco Island, Moore Haven, Seacrest Country Day, SFCA, Canterbury
Contenders: SFCA, Canterbury
Sleepers: Seacrest Day, ECS, First Baptist Academy, Moore Haven
Athletes to watch: Jacob Tracey (Jr., G, SFCA), Caleb Catto (Sr., F, SFCA), Berrick Jean-Louis (Jr., F, Canterbury), Noah Mathews (So., G, ECS), Logan Pearlman (So., G, ECS), Dillon Martino (Sr., F, SFCA), Edward Zurita (Jr., G, Canterbury), Ricky Fernandez (Jr., F, Canterbury), Jadrian Tracey (Fr., G, SFCA).
Outlook: It could be a two-team race following the exit of Community School of Naples, which moved up to 4A. The Kings have two Division I-caliber guards in Catto and Tracey, who transferred from Riverdale after averaging 18 points, five rebounds and six assists per game. Tracey, The News-Press All-Area player of the year in 2015-16, could make the Kings a possible state contender. Paired with Catto and Tracey’s younger brother, Jadrian “Bam Bam” Tracey, the Kings could be dangerous moving forward. Canterbury also added Jean-Louis, a transfer from Lehigh with significant Division I interest. ECS also retains a good array of talent. Moore Haven and First Baptist Academy are worth keeping an eye on.