How Dr. Phillips flag football returned to form in 2016
After a down year in 2015, the Panthers are back on track in 2016 with a 9-3 record and a recent winning streak that saw the Panthers outscore opponents 242-6.
| 9:56 a.m. April 22, 2016
DR. PHILLIPS For a program with as much tradition as Dr. Phillips’ flag football team, getting this year’s squad up to par for the program was no small task.
After taking the 2015 season off, veteran coach Anthony Jones returned to his program this spring to find a roster that had only four returners and no one left from the 2011 or 2012 teams that played for FHSAA state championships (the Panthers won the title in 2011 and finished as runner-up in 2012).
What’s more, in his season away from the program, Dr. Phillips finished 5-8 — a mark well below the program’s standards.
“I come back at the beginning of the season and basically had to start over to keep the tradition going,” Jones said. “Most of the girls here have no experience.”
Although it has been an uphill battle, Jones’ program has regained its swagger this spring, with a 9-3 record and a 6-1 mark in the highly competitive District 3. The Panthers’ recent eight-game winning streak ended. During that streak, Dr. Phillips outscored its opponents 242-6.
After opening the season with a 20-19 loss to Boone, currently undefeated, the Panthers responded with a vengeance.
“(That loss) was kind of of like our introduction,” junior quarterback Kaylee Messina said. “It was definitely (a sign) that ‘OK, we need to step up.’”
Messina has been a big part of the turnaround. Messina has tossed 30 touchdown passes and set a school record with 32 completions in a game against Olympia March 16.
One of Messina’s favorite targets, junior Tiffany Tolbert, is also the team’s heart and soul. Tolbert, also a standout for the school’s girls basketball team, is one of the best athletes in the area and shines on both sides of the ball for the Panthers.
“They feed off Tiffany and Kaylee,” Jones said. “When Tiffany is fired up … it relieves some of the pressure on the new girls.”
The strong play of upperclassmen such as Tolbert, Messina, Jordin Ferguson and Gianna Fischetti has been complemented nicely by an eager group of freshmen led by Nisa Costa.
“(Costa) has stepped in and played both sides of the ball — she’s going to be dynamic,” Jones said of the budding standout.
Jones calls this year’s team the fastest-learning group he has had, and his players are quick to credit the veteran coach for molding them into a contender.
“I like the way he coaches — he makes us put in work and he makes sure that we play with discipline,” Costa said.
The Panthers’ second loss came April 14 against Harmony. Tolbert was unavailable due to travel basketball obligations, as she will be for the remaining regular-season games — but she will be available for the district tournament and beyond. Again without Tolbert, Dr. Phillips fell April 21 to Apopka, 19-13, for its third loss.
Although not having the team’s best athlete can be a setback, Jones said it has a certain value for a team looking to fortify its depth ahead of the playoffs.
“It helps them — they don’t know that, yet — but they have to make big plays and step up,” Jones said.
The Panthers will take on Timber Creek at 7 p.m. April 25 in the first round of the District 3 Tournament. The winner advances to the district championship at 6 p.m. April 27.