Natalia Pineda grimaces whenever she remembers the last shot she took at The Lakeland Center.
But Ferguson’s junior guard realizes the value of remembering that painful experience going forward.
“I felt as a team not being there before affected how we played,” said Pineda, who missed a potential game-winning shot at the buzzer in Ferguson’s state semifinal loss to Vero Beach. “We needed that so this year we can finish what we want.”
In less than five years, Ferguson has gone from a winless team to a state title contender under coach Gabriel Lazo.
Last season’s squad defeated longtime Miami-Dade County powerhouse Miami High and made its state final four debut before losing to the eventual champion.
Pineda, a 5-9 guard, spearheads a team that enters the season on a mission to return to state and claim what would be the school’s first state championship in any sport.
The Falcons graduated Stony Brook signee Gio Perez, who averaged 18 points and 6.2 assists per game.
Pineda, who has a 4.0 GPA, and 5-10 junior Sheslanie Laureano, who is being offered by Stony Brook, William & Mary, Southern Mississippi and Lamar, are expected to form one of the most explosive backcourts in the state.
“We have a very talented group and if we do our part and gel I think we can get it done for sure,” Laureano said. “Making it to state was a great experience, but we have to work hard to finish this time.”
Pineda, who averaged 15 points and 10 rebounds per game last season, is already being offered by a number of schools including FIU, Stony Brook, Tulane, FAU and Eastern Michigan. Laureano averaged 13 points and seven rebounds per game.
And the Falcons have depth behind their guard duo.
Mercy Gonzalez, a 6-0 junior guard/forward, proved her value at state. In her absence because of a finger injury, Ferguson struggled to get its offense going. With her returning as well as junior point guard Yaire Rodriguez, who will start in place of Perez, and senior Alexandra Buitrago, don’t expect an offensive letdown from Ferguson.
What could put Ferguson over the top is its added size and the improved play of 6-4 sophomore Cheyanne Daniels, who is already being looked at by numerous schools, including FIU, USF and Memphis. Daniels has made great strides in the offseason and will be joined by 6-0 senior forward Bria Kingwood.
The Falcons, who went 26-6 last year, will take on a difficult schedule in the hopes of making their state title run. In addition to its district rivals, Ferguson will play in the Art Turner Showcase against national power Paul VI from Virginia among others. They will also play in the CresCom Invitational at Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, the Junior Orange Bowl Classic and the SUTS New Year’s Classic, which will feature a clash with three-time reigning state champion Miami Country Day.
The Spartans are hoping to add to their record state title streak as they return Illinois signee Channise Lewis and University of Miami signee Kelsey Marshall.
Along with sophomore sharpshooter Maria Alvarez and a talented frontcourt of senior Dashaun Jackson and juniors Aaysia Berry and Asha Taylor, expect Country Day to contend for a national ranking once again and possibly even a spot in the Dick’s Sporting Goods High School National Tournament, which it won two years ago.
1. Miami Country Day; 2. Ferguson; 3. Norland; 4. Lourdes; 5. Miami High; 6. Hialeah; 7. Gulliver; 8. Doral Academy; 9. Southridge; 10. South Dade.
On the rise: North Miami, Keys Gate, Northwestern, Central, Booker T. Washington.
TOP RETURNING PLAYERS
Guards: Maria Alvarez, Miami Country Day, 5-7, So.; Latronice Durant, Booker T. Washington, 5-8, Sr.; Taylor Jones, Hialeah, 5-7, Sr.; Sheslanie Laureano, Ferguson, 5-10, Jr.; Channise Lewis, Miami Country Day, 5-8, Sr.; Kelsey Marshall, Miami Country Day, 5-9, Sr.; Yari Martinez, Doral, 5-5, Sr.; Natalia Pineda, Ferguson, 5-9, Jr.; Forwards: Cheyanne Daniels, Ferguson, 6-4, So.; Angela Denis, Keys Gate, 6-0, Jr.; Mikayla Thomas, Gulliver, 6-2, Sr.
OTHERS TO WATCH
Guards: Daniela Barrios, Doral, 5-4, So.; Mercy Gonzalez, Ferguson, 6-0, Jr.; Dashaun Jackson, Miami Country Day, 5-11, Sr.; Shannon Kunkel, Gulliver, 5-9, Sr.; Alana Pinder, Gulliver, 5-7, Jr.; Sophia Poveda, Westminster Christian, 5-8, Sr.; Val Sanchez, Lourdes, 5-3, Jr.; Forwards: Diamond Celestine, Hialeah, 5-9, Sr.; Chrystal Pressley, Norland, 5-10, Sr.; Kasy Rule, South Dade, 5-10, Sr.; Destiny Weldon, Miami High, 5-11, Sr.; Brienne Williams, Norland, 6-1, Sr.; Centers: Aaysia Berry, Miami Country Day, 6-2, Jr.; Tykira Dawson, Southridge, Sr.
1. FERGUSON (Coach Gabriel Lazo, 5th year, 88-29). Last year: 26-6 (State semifinalist). Top players: G Natalia Pineda, 5-9, Jr.; G Sheslanie Laureano, 5-10, Jr.; F-C Cheyanne Daniels, 6-4, So.; G-F Mercy Gonzalez, 6-0, Jr.; PG Yaire Rodriguez, 5-5, Jr.; F-C Bria Kingwood, 6-0, Sr.; G Alexandra Buitrago, Sr.
2. LOURDES (Coach Chris McKeon, 17th year, 371-84). Last year: 23-7 (Regional semifinalist). Top players: G Val Sanchez, 5-3, Jr.; G Maddy Porros, 5-3, Fr.; F Danniela Middolo, 5-10, Sr.; F Ellie Codispoti, 5-5, So.; F Julie Vasquez, 5-10, Fr.; F Alicia Pagliery, 5-9, Fr.; F Daniela Diaz, 5-10, Jr.
3. MIAMI HIGH (Coach Sam Baumgarten). Last year: 26-4 (Regional finalist). Top players: F Destiny Weldon, 6-0, Sr.; Shekinah Rachel, 6-1, So.; Colleen Buckner, 6-0, Fr.; Janniffer Rodriguez, 5-8, Jr.; Darria Whitley, 5-7, Fr.; Lamartrese Wilson, 5-9, Jr.
4. HIALEAH (Coach Denoff Johnson, 14th year, 207-118). Last year: 16-10 (Regional quarterfinalist). Top players: G Taylor Jones, 5-7, Sr.; F Diamond Celestine, 5-9, Sr.; Ja’Keira Betties, 5-5, Sr.; G Cheyenne Brown, 5-5, Sr.
5. SOUTHRIDGE (Coach Jamahr Carter, 2nd year at SR, 8th overall, 69-69). Last year: 16-4. Top players: C Tykira Dawson, 6-0, Sr.; G Ciara Knox, 5-7, Sr.; G Arquesha Hightower, 5-5, So.; G Nya Bush, 5-10, Jr.; F Dyamond Harvey, 6-0, Sr.; G Tra’Kwajah Holton, 5-6, Jr.
6. SOUTH DADE (Coach Larry Hicks, 4th year at SD, 21st overall, 55-12). Last year: 18-3 (Regional quarterfinalist). Top players: G Driesha Waller, 5-7, Sr.; F Kasy Rule, 5-10, Sr.; G Kayla Ewing, 5-7, Sr.; G Deanna Clayton, 5-7, Sr.; G Zahria Alexander, 5-6, Sr.; G Tiera Chaney, 5-7, Sr.
7. NORTH MIAMI (Coach Louis Presume, 4th year, 35-10). Last year: 15-5. Top players: PG Emmanuela Tervil, 6-0; PF Emily Seide, 6-0; PG Angie Gutierrez, 5-5; SG Tiara Jones, 5-5; PF Jennifer Albert, 5-8.
8. SOUTH MIAMI (Coach Sherlisha Jones, 1st year). Last year: 10-10. Top players: SG-PF Jasmyn Betancourt, Sr.; PG Carmen Garcia, Sr.; C-PF Deandra Carvajal, So.; SG Pauline Laidley, Jr.
9. VARELA (Coach Ryan Schneider, 10th year, 126-85). Last year: 17-7 (Regional quarterfinalist). Top players: PG Natasha Polanco, 5-6, Sr.; F-G Leana Lu, 5-8, Sr.; G Denise Quesada, 5-6, So.; PG Daniela Guillama, 5-8, Jr.; C Rashida Mohamad-Hines, 5-11, Sr.; G Tiani Chaname, 5-6, So.
10. SOUTHWEST (Coach Donna Nieto-Thomas). Last year: 11-9. Top players: PG Mya Thomas, 5-9, Jr.; SG Maria Ramirez, 5-5, Jr.; SG Amanda Rodriguez, 5-4, Jr.; SG Izzy Funez, 5-5, So.; G-F Krista Mauldin Clarijo, 5-7, Fr.; F Mia Thomas, 5-8, Jr.
11. CORAL GABLES (Coach Lisa Nanninga, 1st year at CG, 10th overall, 92-81). Last year: 10-8. Top players: PG Desnee Johnson, 5-4, Jr.; F Adrianna Walton, 5-11, Jr.; G Kassandra Luis, 5-5, Jr.; C Alyssa Lamadriz, 5-11, Jr.
12. CORAL REEF (Coach Mark Wynn, 5th year at CR, 13th overall, 78-53). Last year: 6-15. Top players: C-F Abigail Gilzean, 5-11, Sr.; F-G Anae McDonald, 5-8, Sr.; F Sydney Tendler, 5-10, So.; G Remi Khamvongsa, 5-5, So.; G Nichelle Hunte, 5-5, Jr.; G Zynia Alvarez, 5-7, Jr.
13. CORAL PARK (Coach Marcela Anderson, 11th year). Last year: 5-13. Top players: F-C Cosette Tellez, 5-9, Sr.; G-F Nicole Izasa, 5-6, Jr.
14. BRADDOCK (Coach Zeke Delgado, 1st year). Last year: 4-10. Top players: G Ruby Lopez, 5-1, So.; G Natalie Hernandez, 5-1, Sr.; F K’lia McIntyre, 5-7, Jr.
MATER ACADEMY (Coach Danny Arguello, 1st year). Last year: 15-11 (Regional quarterfinalist). Top players: G Brianna Alexander, 5-4, Fr.; G Annete Alicandu, 5-6, Fr.; G Ambar Ramirez, 5-6, 8th; F Sophia Osorio, 5-10, Sr.; G Aansly Jimenez, 5-3, So.; G Nathalia Anduja, 5-5, Sr.
1. NORLAND (Coach Carla Harris, 18th year, 397-112). Last year: 18-10 (Regional finalist). Top players: F Brienne Williams, 6-1, Sr.; G Tia Bailey, 5-7, Sr.; G Edreana Jackson, 5-5, Jr.; F Geraldine Seide, 5-10, Jr.; F Chrystal Pressley, 5-10, Sr.; F Ajayla Rotan, 6-3, Sr.
2. DORAL (Coach Rey Perez, 5th year, 67-35). Last year: 24-6 (Regional semifinalist). Top players: G Yari Martinez, 5-5, Sr.; G Daniela Barrios, 5-4, So.; G Paula Guerrero, 5-3, Sr.; C Samantha Vega, 6-5, Jr.; F Coralys Crespo, 5-6, Jr.; G Andrea Torres, 5-4, Fr.
3. ST. BRENDAN (Coach Peter Ramis, 1st year). Last year: 18-9. Top players: G Carolina Prieto, 5-4, Jr.; SF Brigit Barrial, 5-9, So.; PG Cassandra Armas, 5-2, So.
4. TERRA (Coach Kim Kelly, 4th year at Terra, 15th overall). Last year: 4-12. Top players: G Stephanie Rodriguez, So.; F Kasandra Aguila, Jr.; F Samantha Chutkan, So.; G Rachel Hernandez-Trujillo, Fr.; F Tadrmina Cosomano, Fr.
1. GULLIVER (Coach Jay Zambolla, 10th year at GP, 14th overall, 232-102). Last year: 25-4 (Regional semifinalist). Top players: C Mikayla Thomas, 6-2, Sr.; G Shannon Kunkel, 5-9, Sr.; G Alana Pinder, 5-7, Jr.; G Brittney Tyre, 5-8, Fr.; G Abby Joseph, 5-7, So.; G Rachel Kaiser, 5-3, So.
2. KEYS GATE (Coach Ben Drummer, 4th year, 39-31). Last year: 22-6 (Regional quarterfinalist). Top players: F-C Angela Denis, 6-0, Jr.; SG Yesenia Velez, 5-7, Jr.; PG Riana Moore, 5-5, Fr.; G Takeisha Jones, 5-6, Sr.; F Alexandra Calderon, 5-9, So.; G Valentina Klinar, 5-2, Fr.
3. BOOKER T. WASHINGTON (Coach Clyde Glover, 1st year at BTW, 21st overall, 324-95). Last year: Regional finalist. Top players: G Latronice Durant, 5-8, Sr.
4. LA SALLE (Coach David Fernandez, 3rd year, 24-21). Last year: 8-13. Top players: G Gaby Xiques, 5-5, Sr.; F Andrea Sofia Benavides, 5-7, Jr.; G Cristina Hernandez, 5-3, Jr.
5. RANSOM EVERGLADES (Coach Christine Peluso). Last year: 5-11. Top players: Mia Schatz, Jr.; Casey Qyanstrom, Jr.
6. CARROLLTON (Coach Kevin Davis, 2nd year). Last year: 6-10. Top players: Tanya Eathakotti, Jr.; Caro Shiver, So.; Nina Paneque, Fr.; Sabrina Mas, Fr.
1. MIAMI COUNTRY DAY (Coach Ochiel Swaby, 13th year, 263-84). Last year: 26-6 (State champions). Top players: PG Channise Lewis, 5-8, Sr.; G-F Kelsey Marshall, 5-9, Sr.; PG-SG Maria Alvarez, 5-7, So.; F Dashaun Jackson, 5-11, Sr.; C Aaysia Berry, 6-2, Jr.; G-F Asha Taylor, 5-10, Jr.
2. PALMER TRINITY (Coach Don Kelbick, 2nd year at PT, 4th overall). Last year: 16-5 (Regional finalist). Top players: G Ally Esco, 5-7, Sr.; W Keelin Herling, 5-6, Jr.; F Alissa Dobrinsky, 5-10, Sr.; F Sofi Iglesias, 5-9, Sr.; G Kati Malloy, 5-3, Sr.; G Soleli Martinez, 5-7, Fr.
3. ARCHBISHOP CARROLL (Coach Juan Hernandez, Jr., 1st year). Last year: Regional quarterfinalist. Top players: F Nicole Kozak, 5-9, Sr.; G Carolina Caldera, 5-3, Sr.; G Michelle Moye, 5-4, Sr.; G Jewelia Fernandez, 5-4, Jr.; G Valeria Ordonez, 5-3, Jr.; G Catherine Martinez, 5-2, So.
4. SLAM (Coach Michelle Smith, 2nd year, 14-6). Last year: 14-6. Top players: G Anelys Rodriguez, Sr.; PG Marta Franco, Fr.; F Nayelee Velasquez, 5-8, Fr.; G Jailene Garcia, Jr.; G Jacqueline Garcia, Fr.
DIVINE SAVIOR (Coach Erika Biesterfeld, 5th year). Last year: 10-8. Top players: PG Nicole Porter, 5-8, So.; G Kelly Pena, 5-2, Sr.