Windermere Prep, CFCA, Ocoee and Dr. Phillips each enter the playoffs with their own distinct storyline.
The coverage area for both the West Orange Times and the Windermere Observer fared pretty well last week, what with four of the eight varsity basketball teams that entered their respective district tournaments making it out on the other side.
And although Windermere Prep, CFCA, Ocoee and Dr. Phillips each are preparing for a regional quarterfinal playoff game Feb. 11 and each have the same goal — to win the state championship in their classification — the story each team is telling is distinct.
Take the Lakers (22-5), for instance.
Windermere Prep raced out to a 19-1 start, with the one loss being against a nationally ranked program early in the season, and the Lakers were swimming in great expectations.
Then, starting with a loss to The Master’s Academy Jan. 16, things got dicey. Windermere Prep lost four of six, creating serious doubts and sending the Lakers tumbling down regional rankings.
For Windermere Prep, the story is one of a program making its case that they were deserving of the hype earlier this season and — more importantly — that this is the season that the Lakers will advance past the second round of the regional playoffs.
They are the proverbial heavyweight on the ropes.
CFCA, meanwhile, is making a case that the program Jonathan McClintock is building on Good Homes Road is worthy of some attention. Playing in the same district as Orlando Christian Prep, a perennial Class 2A power with loads of tradition, the Eagles (16-11) went a long way toward putting the area on notice when they upset OCP in the district championship, 46-45, on a last-second shot by Dante Treacy. That exciting moment came just two nights after the Eagles squeaked out a 57-55 win over Agape, which ended the Eagles’ season a year ago.
If CFCA hopes to see its season extend beyond Thursday, though, it will have to turn some heads once again when it hosts Mount Dora Christian (25-1) — a team that lost its first game just last week in the district final.
The Eagles are building a reputation under McClintock win-by-win, and any wins CFCA can accumulate in the next week or so count toward its credibility.
Ocoee (12-13) was supposed to take a big step back from a season ago, after the bulk of its scoring (in the forms of Grant Riller and Vaughn McCall) graduated and its coach left. Instead, new coach John "Sarge"Siers has his team in the state playoffs — something last year's Knights were unable to accomplish.
Ocoee is a team that Siers has said — all season — is pretty good when it plays "hard and together." Considering the Knights are winners of nine of their past 12 games, his message may finally be resonating with his players.
Finally, there is Dr. Phillips (19-7). The Panthers have had every reason to have a down year, starting with the high-profile transfers of Chaundee Brown and two others during the offseason. Then there was the mid-season departure of two of the team’s seniors — a shakeup that suddenly turned coach Anthony Long’s bunch into a young roster.
Still, the Panthers have pushed on — despite some losses.
Dr. Phillips will have a tall task when it travels to Sarasota to take on Riverview (22-2) and, yet again, the streak of consecutive 20-win seasons (at 22 years, now) is in jeopardy. But after wins over Oak Ridge, Melbourne and Jones — not to mention rival Olympia in the most important game of the season — it’s hard to count the Panthers out.
They are the team that finds a way with a “next man up” philosophy.
Rivalry of the future?
Consider this for a moment: If you subtract Dr. Phillips senior Justin Tucker — and, yes, the double-double machine constitutes a notable subtraction — then nearly every impact player on the floor Feb. 3 during the district semifinal between the Panthers and Titans will be back next season.
Olympia’s quartet of super sophomores, led by Ronaldo Segu and DeJuan Lockett? Check.
Dr. Phillips’ Daniel Love and Nick Smith — among others? Check.
Both teams have exceeded expectations with relatively inexperienced rosters, and that tells me when these two meet in the 2016-17 campaign, it could make for two or three — even four? — of the most anticipated games in Central Florida.
Cheers to an old rivalry achieving new heights.