Michiyah Simmons, Alexis Gibbs discuss Somerset Prep’s second straight girls’ basketball state title
This particular iteration of Somerset Prep, the most successful in the school’s short history, came together with an eye toward three girls’ eighth-grade seasons. Michiya Simmons, Zaria Blake and Mya Kone — three of the Hurricanes’ star freshmen this season — just wanted somewhere they could play varsity before they actually began high school, so they settled upon the North Lauderdale charter school because of a Florida High School Athletic Association rule allowing private and charter schools to place middle-school students on varsity teams.
Two years later, those three have already hoisted a pair of state championship trophies. Somerset Prep completed its defense of the Class 3A title Tuesday, cruising past Fort Myers Canterbury for a 75-44 win at the RP Funding Center in Lakeland with every Hurricane chipping in.
“They’re young, so at first I didn’t really expect them to know as much, but they’re great players and we kind of had to build and work together to see what everybody else can do,” said junior small forward Alexis Gibbs, Somerset Prep’s only upperclassman. “Everybody on the team can score 10 points or more, so it’s unbalanced when we play teams. They don’t know who to guard.”
In 2018, Somerset Prep won the 3A championship with a 34-point win against Orlando Christian Prep in the title game. This year, the Hurricanes’ 31-point win came after blowing Canterbury off the floor with a 20-5 third quarter.
Simmons was the freshman to render most of the second half meaningless. The point guard unloaded for 12 points on 6-of-8 shooting in the third quarter to turn a 37-28 halftime lead into a 57-33 edge entering the fourth.
Simmons finished with a game-high 28 points after Somerset Prep (13-10) turned up the pressure in the third quarter. The Hurricanes play with only six players, so they have to pick their spots for when to trap or press, even though their roster of players with Division I offers should lend itself to an uptempo system. At halftime, no Somerset Prep player had multiple fouls, so coach JR McNabb let them loose.
The Cougars (23-5) had only six turnovers in the first half, then gave away the ball 10 times in the third. Ten of Simmons’ 12 third-quarter points came in transition, including four off turnovers.
“I found out during the first half nobody has the same speed and agility as me,” Simmons said after the win, “so as soon as the rebound comes, we always want to push the ball ahead of us.”
Even before, the Hurricanes didn’t have much trouble with Canterbury. Kourtnee Gilbert hit a three-pointer 1:07 in to give Somerset Prep a 3-2 lead and it never again trailed. The freshman guard, who wasn’t a part of the 2018 team, drilled three three-pointers in the first quarter to give the Hurricanes an early 21-14 lead and finished with 16 points. Gibbs added another 11, while Kone grabbed a team-high 10 rebounds and Blake led the team with six assists. Sophomore guard Christina Grant rounds out the roster and scored six points off the bench.
Somerset Prep shot 7 of 15 from three-point range in the first half and finished 10 of 25.
“The girls were ready,” McNabb said after the win. “They were loose and they just shot it with confidence.”
The Hurricanes have now played four games at George W. Jenkins Arena in two years and won three by more than 30. The only relatively close game came last year in the 3A semifinals, when Bradenton Christian came within 16.
This year was different. McNabb surprised his players with yellow hard hats to wear in Polk County to make sure they were ready to go to work, but preparations really went back to the regular season.
Less than two weeks ago, Somerset Prep had a sub-.500 record. Now the Hurricanes are champions again.
“Our coach wanted us to play harder teams, so when we get here it’d be a piece of cake, run through teams like dust and it worked,” Simmons said. “It really worked.”