If there was any game in which Nease girls basketball coach Sherri Anthony knew she would have to lean on her two most experienced guards, it’s today’s contest against nationally ranked Winter Haven in the Rob Moramarco Challenge at Flagler Palm Coast High School.
Unfortunately both junior Kiya Turner and sophomore Karissa Niles were suffering from flu-like symptoms this week.
“They were both coughing their heads off (Thursday),” Anthony said. “They were in the same hotel room (at least week’s KSA Events Holiday Tournament). They were four to a room and three of the girls got sick.”
The Panthers (12-2) are riding a 12-game winning streak and are ranked ninth in the state and first in Class 7A by MaxPreps. They will play Winter Haven (12-0) at 5 p.m. today and Orlando Lake Nona (5-8) at 1:30 p.m. Saturday at FPC. The high-powered Rob Moramarco Challenge includes 12 teams from around Florida, four of which are ranked among the state’s top 25.
Winter Haven, ranked first in the state and 11th in the nation by MaxPreps, is a relentless pressing and trapping team that relies on its defense to create offensive opportunities.
“Their offense is their defense,” Anthony said. “They press and they make layups. Their (center) can handle the ball as well as their point guard. They get the ball upcourt so quick.”
The Blue Devils are led by senior point guard Diamond Battles, a UCF commitment, who averages 14.3 points, 8.4 rebounds and 6.5 assists per game. Shooting guard Zakiyah Franklin adds 13.6 points.
Turner, a third-year starter, and Niles, a second-year starter, will be counted on to be the primary ball-handlers against the press, but both of them have been day to day. Turner, who leads the Panthers with 15.6 points and 5.4 assists, was feeling better Thursday, Anthony said, while Niles (8.9 ppg) returned Thursday after missing Wednesday’s practice with a fever.
Nease will try to counter Winter Haven’s quickness with its size advantage. Frontcourt starters Camille Hobby (6-foot-3, 14.5 points, 10 rpg), Peyton Carter (6-2, 10.5 ppg) and Mykah Eshbaugh (6-feet, 5.9 ppg, 6.9 rpg)) will all have a height advantage over their Winter Haven counterparts. The Panthers will try to feed their post players and slow the game down.
“On a good day for us we can play with them,” Anthony said. “If it came down to a halfcourt game I believe we can beat them, but we need to be healthy and our bigs need to be able to get back quickly on defense and handle the ball some against the press.”
Win or lose, Anthony believes today’s game will pay dividends down the road for a Panthers’ team that expects to make a deep run in the playoffs.
“It’s a great game to prepare us for whatever comes down the run,” Anthony said. “We want to play teams on that level.”