Miami-Dade High Schools

This Puerto Rican team overcomes Hurricane Irma and makes it to Junior Orange Bowl

After advancing to the Junior Orange Bowl semifinals, the girls’ basketball team from Puerto Rico visited Dolphin Mall in the afternoon.
After advancing to the Junior Orange Bowl semifinals, the girls’ basketball team from Puerto Rico visited Dolphin Mall in the afternoon. Courtesy photo

Thursday was a perfect day for Colegio Adianez.

The girls’ basketball team from Puerto Rico advanced to the Junior Orange Bowl semifinals with a 63-36 early-morning win over Doral Academy and then visited Dolphin Mall in the afternoon before taking in the University of Miami’s women’s game later that evening against Bethune-Cookman.

But as great as Thursday was, the Adianez team has also known its share of hardship — unable to practice for over a month because of the $100 billion worth of devastation caused in Puerto Rico by Hurricane Maria in September.

Friday marked 100 days since the storm hit, and still only about 60 percent of the people on the island have power and just 85 percent have drinkable water.

“That was the first hurricane I have felt of that magnitude,” Alicia Penzo, a 5-9 senior guard for Adianez, said in Spanish. “I was very scared. We lost electricity for almost two months. We used candles and portable lamps.

“Basically, we would go to sleep every night at 6.”

When the Adianez girls finally returned to practice, they were out of shape, out of form and out of sorts.

But Thursday’s performance showed that the team is back to being the deep unit that dominated Puerto Rico last season with a 50-2 record.

Coach Rafael Acevedo, who started the Adianez program from scratch seven years ago but suffered a 45-34 semifinal loss to Ferguson on Friday, said he thought he was going to lose a lot of players due to the hurricane

That did not turn out to be true, however. All but one player returned, and Acevedo took a friend’s advice and contacted Junior Orange Bowl tournament director Chuck Little about a spot in the eight-team field.

Acevedo said Hurricane Maria has brought damage and despair to his country, but he is optimistic that the island is on its way back to recovery.

“What they present on the news is real,” Acevedo said. “Yes, it was hard. We had never been hit by a Category 5 hurricane. It was strong.

“But we are not completely destroyed. The island overall is starting to be normalized. We’re OK — thanks to God.”

Adianez’s visit to Miami continues what has long been a thread that connects Puerto Rico and South Florida.

For example, there are at least a quarter-million Puerto Ricans living in South Florida — and that was before Hurricane Maria. Since then, about 140,000 Puerto Ricans have moved to Florida, including a significant number coming to Miami-Dade and Broward counties.

There are other connections between South Florida and Puerto Rico.

FIU baseball coach Mervyl Melendez is Puerto Rican, and he and his son — Kansas City Royals prospect MJ Melendez — recently held a camp to benefit the Boys & Girls Clubs back in their homeland.

In addition, the Miami Hurricanes’ women’s basketball team played two games last week in Trujillo Alto, Puerto Rico.

This week, Puerto Rico came to Miami, starting with Thursday’s win at the Junior OB tournament being held at Palmetto.

“The idea is that we will compete hard,” Acevedo said. “But the main thing is to get exposure for our players.”