Carla Harris wrapped up practice at Norland Wednesday evening and did what she often does for her extended family.
Harris drove to nearby FIU to watch one of her many alums — Brittanny Dinkins, a freshman at Southern Mississippi — to catch up while she was in town.
“Being there for these girls no matter how long it’s been since they played for me is what it’s about for me,” Harris said. “They still chat with me whenever they have bumps in the road. I told them as long as I have breath I’m going to be there to help them out.”
During the past 15 seasons, two state championships, and what is about to be a seventh visit to the state final four — a family atmosphere has been a key part of the success for Norland’s girls’ basketball team.
And few times has it been as important as it was this season when Harris’ only two seniors — Donneal Ford and Kayla Roberts, whose bloodlines run deep at Norland — had to become mentors to a young squad that found its way back to Lakeland despite a 17-9 season that included a three-game losing streak to end the regular season.
Eight of Norland’s losses were against in-state teams that advanced to at least the regional semifinal round, including Class 3A state champion Miami Country Day and Class 7A state semifinalist Palm Beach Lakes.
The attempt to win title No. 3 begins Friday at The Lakeland Center when Norland takes on Pensacola Pine Forest (25-2) at 4 p.m. in a Class 6A semifinal. If the Vikings win, they would face either two-time defending state champion Orlando Edgewater or Naples Barron Collier Saturday at 1:30 in the final. Edgewater has eliminated Norland at state each of the past two seasons.
Roberts, a 5-11 forward signed with Norfolk State, has had numerous brothers and sisters play for the Norland boys and girls’ basketball teams through the years. She is averaging 14.5 points and 6.6 rebounds per game.
Ford, a 5-8 guard signed with FAU, is averaging 12 points and three assists per game. Her father, Doneal, has been a coach at Norland for the past 13 seasons.
The two have helped younger players such as 6-3 sophomore forward Tyana Williams (7.5 rebounds per game), whose brother, Tyrell, is a forward on the boys’ team, to quickly become leaders on the team.
The Soccer Locker-Dade County High School Coaches Senior All-Star games will be played Saturday at Miami Country Day. The girls’ game is set for 4 p.m. followed by the boys’ Class 3A-1A game at 6 p.m. and the boys’ Class 5A-4A game at 8 p.m. Admission is $5.
Miami Springs defensive end JaRee Tolbert signed with Coastal Carolina. Sean Pratt, quarterback from Archbishop Mccarthy, signed with Ave Maria.