Girls basketball season begins Monday. A look at five teams and five players to watch as the season begins.
Creekside: The Knights went 16-8 a season ago and have the potential to boost that record this season. Twin sisters, F Megan and G Taylor Allen, lead the Knights into what should be a very competitive District 4-8A, along with district co-favorite Fleming Island. Taylor Allen averaged 10 ppg as a junior. Creekside isn’t a star-laden team, but it has depth, and will be in the mix to push for a district title. Along with the Allens, guards Sarah Bridges, Whitney Ellis and Anna Rose Epting give first-year coach Wade Cashwell nice scoring potential.
Fernandina Beach: The Pirates had a breakthrough season in 2015-16, posting a 25-4 record and winning a district title. They went one-and-done in the state playoffs, something that they should be able to remedy this year. G Shanaya Thompson was one of the biggest reasons for the Pirates’ record-setting season. The third-team All-First Coast selection averaged 15 ppg for Fernandina, which will be heavily favored to claim the District 3-5A crown, with Bolles, Episcopal, Raines and West Nassau slugging it out behind the Pirates. Thompson and junior Sydne Caddy (5.3 rpg) lead a good, guard-heavy lineup.
Providence: With one of the best scoring ballhandlers around in Maria Kuhlman, and a very good transfer at guard in Lauran Alvarez, Providence has a very good core of players as it moves in to District 2-4A. Kuhlman was a second team All-First Coast selection last year after averaging 23.1 points and 8 rebounds per game. Alvarez, a transfer from Trinity Christian, will help offset so much of the focus being on Kuhlman. With last year’s state runner-up, University Christian, losing a slew of talent to graduation and injury, Providence could be positioned well for a decent postseason run.
Ribault: The Trojans have finally gained national traction under coach Shelia Seymore Pennick, something that she talked about often as one of her biggest goals. Ribault won the Class 5A state championship last year, then turned around and won the Dick’s Sporting Goods high school nationals. They graduated some important pieces, but have the two best players in the area returning in senior wings DayNeshia Banks and Rennia Davis. Transfers Shania Edgecombe and Teyonna Williams will make this season’s Ribault team just as lethal, if not more so, than last year’s team. The Trojans are not only the top team in the state regardless of classification, they are going to be mentioned as a national power this season.
Sandalwood: The Saints are young, and they managed just seven wins a season ago, but they could find themselves in the mix among the top programs in the Gateway Conference this season. The good news is the Saints have promising newcomers Amari Wright, a 5-8 guard, a 6-1 forward Caitlin McGee. Several area coaches said that those two could be the breakout underclassmen this season. The hurdle facing the Saints is playing in District 1-9A, which includes a Flagler Palm Coast team that went 24-2 last season, and what should be a much-improved Spruce Creek.
F Kneisha Bush, Sr., Parker: She averaged 12.6 ppg last season for the Braves during an All-Gateway Conference year and stands to be much better in her final season. The Texas A&M-Corpus Christi signee has big-time scoring ability, and Parker will need every ounce of that in District 3-6A, which includes the likes of Bishop Kenny, Paxon and Ribault.
G Janasia Law-Johnson, Sr., Lee: The Generals barely missed the state semifinals last year, but there’s a gaping hole in their lineup this year with the graduation of Jaela Green. Law-Johnson should help offset that transition. She’ll run the point for Lee, and for the Generals to keep up with what should be a better First Coast team in District 3-7A, Law-Johnson will need to be a much bigger offensive presence for the Generals. She averaged 8.5 ppg as a junior.
G Hannah Roney, Sr., Middleburg: A three-year starter, she has been one of the best in the area offensively throughout her career. With 1,552 points, a run at 2,000 seems very possible. She averaged 20 points and 4.6 rebounds per game as a junior, and has continued to dump in buckets of points, despite being the player opposing teams put a target on every game.
G, Kiya Turner, So., Nease: She was a very welcome addition to the Panthers last season, averaging 10.1 points and 6.7 rebounds per game for a 25-6 team. The changes around her this year are significant, with the graduations of the top three scorers. That will mean substantial offensive gains for Turner, who could see her numbers climb into the low 20 ppg output.
G Jha’ne Wheeler, Sr., Paxon: A third-team All-First Coast selection last season, she averaged 13.1 ppg for the Golden Eagles. The Northwestern State commit is arguably the best non-Ribault player in the Gateway Conference. She can shoot, slash and pass. Along with guards and multi-year players Jayla Swinson, Maia Stewart, Kitana Stokes and Trinity Wade, expect Wheeler and Paxon to do better than its 15-10 mark from last season.