The Northeast Hurricanes have packed their slingshots for Lakeland.
After defeating two of the giants of girls’ basketball in Dillard and Norland in their two previous games, the Hurricanes (21-7) will face another titan on Friday at 4 p.m. when they play Orlando Edgewater (21-5) in a Class 6A state semifinal at The Lakeland Center.
Before this season, Northeast had never been past the regional semifinals, winning only one game in the regional playoffs (2014).
“It’s exciting,” Northeast coach Zach Gillion said, “and it’s even more gratifying knowing that we got there by knocking off two powerhouses. Dillard set the standard in Broward County and Norland, over the past 10 years, set the standard in Miami.”
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Gillion said he sees excitement at Northeast now that his team is making a run. But that hasn’t always been the case.
This is Gillion’s fifth season at Northeast and his fourth as the head coach. Before he got there, Gillion said Northeast had gone winless in three straight seasons.
Perhaps that explains why it hasn’t been uncommon for Northeast kids to come to their school in Oakland Park wearing shirts of rival high schools — such as Dillard or Cardinal Gibbons.
Gillion noticed. His players noticed as well.
“It’s disrespectful to Northeast,” said Kandis Taylor, a 5-6 junior guard.
No one is disrespecting the Hurricanes now. The Hurricanes have three seniors who have signed to play in Division I next season: 6-0 forward Deborah Hudson (Southern); 6-0 wing Ashley Saintigene (Marshall); and 5-10 guard Nailah Delinois (St. Joseph).
Edgewater has a veteran coach in Malcolm Lewis, who has won four state titles in his 17 years at the program.
Northeast will counter with Gillion, 35, who is thrilled to have led his alma mater to state but is still mindful of the big picture.
Gillion said while some other coaches will play a kid out of position because that’s what is best for the team, he will develop a player at the spot she has the best chance to compete at in college.
“I’m not going to put a 5-9 girl in the post,” he said. “I’m going to spend four years to make her a guard so she can get a scholarship.
“I’m one of seven brothers. My mom has 120 trophies in her house. We don’t need another trophy. Making it to state is cool. But I’d much rather see a girl win a scholarship. That’s my focus, and I haven’t let up on that.”
▪ If Northeast wins its semifinal, it will be without Gillion in the state title game. Gillion is a member of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, which observes the Sabbath from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday.
The Class 6A final would fall in that window of observance – at 1:30 p.m. on Saturday. Gillion said his assistant, Tiffany Charles, would coach in the final unless the schedule is changed.
If you go
What: The state girls’ basketball finals.
When: Through Saturday.
Where: The Lakeland Center, 701 West Lime St., Lakeland.
Wednesday’s results – 4A semis: Lake Highland 69, Cardinal Gibbons 34; Tampa Brooks-DeBartolo 66, East Gadsden 55; 1A final: Madison County 73, Trenton 58; 2A final: Academy at the Lakes vs. Tallahassee FAMU, inc.
Thursday – 5A semis: Fort Myers Dunbar vs. Jax. Ribault, 1; Lecanto vs. Orlando Moore, 3; 3A final: Miami Country Day vs. Jax. University Chr., 5:05; 4A final: Lake Highland vs. Brooks-DeBartolo, 8:05.
Friday – 7A semis: Lakewood Ranch vs. Niceville, 10 a.m.; South Broward vs. Winter Haven, noon; 6A semifinals: Northeast vs. Orlando Edgewater, 4; Fort Myers vs. Fort Walton Beach Choctawhatchee, 8; 8A semis: Ferguson vs. Vero Beach, 2; Sanford Seminole vs. Boca Raton, 6.
Saturday – 5A final: 11:05 a.m.; 6A final: 1:35; 7A final: 4:05; 8A final: 7:05.