If you judge it by the high standards set by a program with two state championships and four runner-up finishes in the past eight seasons, then it’s been a below-average season for the Miami Norland girls’ basketball team.
For a squad with only three seniors, most of it has been a learning experience.
The young Vikings showed Thursday they have matured enough to make another run to the state final four.
Led by senior Kayla Roberts’ 17 points and three assists and sophomore Tyana Williams’ 12 points and eight rebounds, Norland overwhelmed visiting Jackson for a 57-20 victory in a Region 4-6A quarterfinal.
The Vikings (15-9) will host Miami Northwestern on Tuesday at 7 p.m. in a regional semifinal as they try to move a step closer to a third consecutive state final four appearance.
“They’ve shown some promise, and that’s what happens when you have young kids,” Norland coach Carla Curry said. “They responded tonight. I’m excited about this group going forward the way they listen and improve.”
Curry relied heavily on Roberts and guard Danneal Ford, who had seven points, to become the leaders of this year’s team especially early in the season.
“I feel like I had to raise a lot of them kind of because they were nervous so I had to tell them I had their back,” Roberts said. “I had to make sure my game was on point, too, so I didn’t leave them hanging.”
Despite its youth, Norland took on several of South Florida’s contenders losing games to Miami Country Day, Coral Springs Charter, Ferguson and South Miami. The Vikings were competitive in most of those defeats, however, gradually gaining experience for this postseason run.
“It’s been a long road for us, but everyone has stayed together because we have to get back to state and get a ring,” Roberts said.
Several of the Vikings’ underclassmen have become key contributors on the team as a result.
Williams, a 6-2 forward, has given Norland a significant advantage in the paint and athleticism in transition. Curry also credited junior forward Jeanysha Jean-Baptiste.
“You can’t teach 6-2,” Curry said. “[Williams] has got a great attitude in practice and she came out like a beast tonight. We need that from her going forward. [Jean-Baptiste] stepped up for us in a recent game in the clutch and made the big shot.”
The host Cobras picked up the pressure in the second half en route to a 58-25 victory in the Region 4-8A quarterfinal Thursday night.
South Miami led just 21-15 at halftime but outscored the Barracudas 37-10 over the final 16 minutes, fueled by forward Simone King’s five steals and guard Tamorra Graham’s 16 points.
“First half was very slow, unorganized,” Graham said. “We didn’t trust each other. Second half we just picked it up like we usually do and how we need to be. Once [Simone] picked up the defense everybody else just followed her. That was the turning point.”
Graham, who led all scorers, also collected seven rebounds, seven assists, four blocks and two steals. Center Ka’neeshia Brown added a double-double of 14 points and a game-high 16 rebounds. Forward Khadijah Brown was the other Cobra in double figures (11).
Coral Reef did not have a player in double digits. Guard Andrea Alespeiti, forward Raquel Alespeiti and center Jenesha Hollin each scored six points. The Barracudas failed to connect on a 3-pointer.
“We kind of stayed in a zone in the beginning -- slowed the game down -- so we figured we’d have to use our speed to pick up the tempo,” Fox said. “It just worked to our advantage.”
Last year, South Miami beat host Coral Reef, 55-47, in the same round of regional play. The Cobras advance to next week’s semifinal against District 15-8A rival Ferguson, which lost two of three meetings to South Miami this season.
“I just want to get to Lakeland, that’s all,” Graham said. “To get to it for the first time in South Miami history.”
South Miami 58, Coral Reef 25: SM (21-8): Graham 16, Ka’neeshia Brown 14, Khadijah Brown 11, Kristin Cummings 7, Simone King 7, Megan Delgado 2, Lilyan Gil 1. CR (14-8): A. Alespeiti 6, R. Alespeiti 6, Hollin 6, Simone Burns 2, Shakeyla Flores 2, Morgan Gonsalves 1. Half: 21-15. Three-pointers: Graham 2, Cummings 1. Rebounds: Ka’neeshia Brown 16. Assists: Graham 7. Steals: King 5. Blocks: Graham 4.
“The first half we played well,” Gulliver coach John Zambolla said. “We built the lead again in the third a little bit and we let some of the benched kids play. We can shoot obviously. We have a lot of shooters, so we try and spread the floor - especially against the zone.”
The Gulliver girls held control of the game through its entirety. Stepanovic and Wirshing held the highest scoring in the game with 15 and 14, respectively.
The Raiders will move on to into the regional semifinals where they will face the winner of Florida Christian/Booker T. Washington, but the Zambolla’s concerns come from longtime rival Coral Springs Charter.
“We have won the the semifinals for a few years in a row but we always seem to lose in the final against Coral Springs Charter,” Zambolla said. “We obviously we have to take care of business first. I don’t know if we will be playing against Florida Christian or Booker T., but hopefully this will be our year. Coral Springs Charter is the team we have trouble with over the past couple years. “
An American turnover on the final possession sent the Raiders (16-9) on to Tuesday’s regional semifinals. It had been nine years since Aquinas advanced to the state tournament.
“It’s real big,” Aquinas coach Bernie Farrell said. “[Really] satisfying.”
Aquinas sophomore center Mary Katherine Moore scored to put Aquinas ahead, 43-42, midway through the fourth quarter. American’s Shanya Jones answered on the next possession to put the Patriots up one. Aquinas senior Natalie McNerney, who endured a 4-13 freshman season, hit a bucket in the paint at the 2:50 mark to put push the Raiders ahead, 47-45. American senior Ebony Griffin tied the game at 49-49 with a layup with a minute to play, setting the stage for Smith’s heroics.
Moore finished with 21 points, 19 rebounds and four blocks. McNerney scored 15.
“She gives a lot of people trouble,” Farrell said of Moore. “She uses her size well. They’re beating her up underneath, and she keeps fighting. She makes a great impact on defense, too. We can go out on the perimeter and cover people because we know they can’t get layups because she’s under the basket. Natalie’s been our leader all year. When we need a big basket, she’s come up with it. She’s been a great player for us for four years.”
Maikala McCloud had 19 and eight rebounds for American, and Jones 15 points, six boards and four assists.
“It’s great for the girls, great for our seniors,” Farrell said. “Especially to beat a great team. American is a great team.”
With the win, Miami High will go to Flanagan for the region semifinal. The game will be played on Tuesday at 7 p.m. These teams already met once this season and Miami High defeated Flanagan 55-42.
“Our effort was not there in the beginning,” said Sam Baumgarten. “We want to state champs and we need to prepare like them.”
A strong defensive effort by West Broward kept Miami High in check throughout the first quarter. The game was locked at 6-6 with four minutes to play and Miami High only led 10-8 going into the second quarter.
The second quarter belonged to the Stingarees as they outscored the Bobcats 24-5 and took a 34-13 lead into halftime.
In the third quarter, a basket by 6’4’’ junior Beatrice Mompremier put Miami High up 45-15. Mompremier dominated inside and posted a double-double with 14 points with 12 rebounds. Late in the third, Miami High went up by over 35 points to force a running clock.
“I feel confident in my team and I think we can win the state championship,” said Mompremier. Miami High lost the state championship game last year, 52-47 to Dr. Philips (Orlando).
Mompremier had game-highs in both points and rebounds. Senior Amanda Mendoza had seven assists and nine points for Miami High. West Broward was led by Kayla Campbell who had 12 points.