The Norland girls’ basketball team is no stranger to the state tournament, where it makes its fourth consecutive appearance in Friday’s semifinal against Naples Barron Collier at the Lakeland Center.
But in a way, coach Carla Harris’ squad is still navigating uncharted territory.
Traditionally, Norland (19-9) is a lock to be included in the state’s top 10. The Vikings weren’t ranked, a slight Harris has used to fuel motivation in her young group.
“When nobody respects you, you don’t have anything to lose,” Harris said.
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The reason for the oversight probably stems from Norland’s lack of upperclassmen. The Vikings start four juniors and a sophomore, led by junior swingman Brittney Huell (12.5 points per game) and junior center Tyana Williams (9 points, 8.4 rebounds, and 1.4 blocks). Harris also gets important contributions from freshman guard Edreana Jackson.
“The whole starting five will be back next year,” Harris said. “And they’re finally buying into what we’re asking them to do.”
Harris only has senior forward Janet Harrison for a little while longer, but she’s glad the defensive stalwart is back at all following a torn ACL suffered playing summer ball.
The 5’10 swingman recovered in time for Norland’s 52-42 regional final win over Pembroke Pines Charter, contributing eight points in her return. Harris said Harrison’s experience, defensive intensity and three-point stroke will be vital if Norland is going to capture its first state title since 2010.
“She’s been our defensive stopper for the last two years,” Harris said. “She’s making a big difference for us.”
Harrison impressed Harris by staying involved and focused while injured, content on helping any way she could without physically being on the floor. Harrison helped guide younger players and get them comfortable in leadership roles while she rehabbed and eyed an eventual return.
“She’s like a coach because she’s been sitting out so long,” Harris said. “She’s able to see things from the coaches’ perspective.”
Norland took its three regional contests easily, defeating Jackson 54-20 in the quarterfinals and Doral Academy 53-38 in the semis before topping Pines Charter.
A win over Naples Barron Collier would situate Norland against either Pensacola Pine Forest or Winter Haven — the top-ranked Class 6A team in the state.
To get there Norland must suppress Barron Collier’s balanced offensive attack, led by senior small forward Olivia Ferrucci and senior guard Jakella Davis (combined 19.5 points per game).
Even with Harrison back, Barron Collier trumps Norland in the experience department with six regularly contributing seniors. But Harris is more concerned with certain measurements taken vertically.
“I have much respect for their program,” Harris said. “We've been the bigger team in terms of size. We have to take advantage of our size against them.”