OAKLEAF - Oakleaf High girls basketball coach Fred Cole has had his share of marquis players in the past four years with the likes of Kaylah Turner, Fantasia James, and Kamiya Jones and even included …
OAKLEAF - Oakleaf High girls basketball coach Fred Cole has had his share of marquis players in the past four years with the likes of Kaylah Turner, Fantasia James, and Kamiya Jones and even included Taliah Scott, who took her senior year at St. Johns Country Day School after a Final Four season with Cole, all sensational sophomores in their starts and all bonafide superstars in their finishes.
After a sensational Final Four finish last year (26-3); lost to eventual runner-up Charlotte in the 6A state semifinal, and before a season opener against a highly-touted University Christian team that was a region semifinalist last year, Cole noted that the "Three Amigas" (Turner, James and Jones) have all graduated and that his team is fairly fresh.
"We had quarterhorses for a few years," said Cole, before the hard-fought 42-38 loss. "We got ponies now, but we'll make them quarterhorses."
On the bench with Cole is long-time assistant Ronald Jefferson who, as the conditioning guru of the duo, has been the architect of the fast-paced, no let up attack that Cole employs.
"They will do the work and as the season goes, will get faster, stronger and mentally tougher," said Cole. "We know the formula."
Against UC in the opener on Saturday, the three main cogs of the Knights attack that have returned to take the flag of the Oakleaf attack; Trista Brown, Ja'Nease Bender and still-tiny-but-tough-as-nails Armaany Mullins (just 5'-2) put their noses up against the much bigger Lady Christians and nearly pulled off a scintillating fourth quarter takedown.
After a sizing-up 4-4 first-quarter score with both teams kind of forgetting about playing foundation basketball and both missing standard shots, the second quarter started to look like two championship-level teams duking it out.
Brown was the engine up the court with a driving layup and a three-pointer, Bender down below coughing up balls back out to the stripe and Mullins sneaking under her much taller adversaries for rebounds in crowds while she was sent sprawling down the court.
With sophomore Shelby Gaines throwing in some tough drives to the basket, Oakleaf held the line to a 20-15 gap at halftime.
In the third quarter, junior Makiya Trusel and Gaines battled underneath to keep a ball heading to the Oakleaf bucket before Trusel muscled up a three-pointer and a jumper on the next run down that seemed to energize the Knights sideline with Oakleaf pushing to a 22-20 gap.
University extended to 28-22 before Gaines knocked in a layup and free throw three-point play and followed with a second drive to the hoop to close the score to 28-25 as the fourth quarter started.
The score gap hovered around 1-2 points; Brown with a three with 38 seconds putting the game at 38-37 for UC to set up a chess match finish.
With both coaches implementing time-saving tactics, it was two errant throws by Oakleaf that put the game in the University's hands, 42-38.
Oakleaf had a preseason loss, 47-38, to 7A-Spruce Creek (23-6 last year, lost in the region final) on November 21.
Cole's normally rugged schedule moves right into go mode with Paxon on November 30, a trip to Orange Park on Fri., Dec. 1 and road trips to Bartram Trail and Nease next week with Ponte Vedra home on December 15. Oakleaf beat Ponte Vedra in last year's district 3-6A final with Ponte Vedra beating Nease in the semifinal. Oakleaf, Nease and Ponte Vedra were all-region qualifiers last year.
Jenkins stealing and dealing for the Golden Eagles
Also in the district 3-6A lineup is Fleming Island under coach Michael Hayward and assistant coaches Kenyia Johnson and Molly Ragle, both former stellar players for Fleming Island High School.
The Golden Eagles, with a double front attack of slasher London Jenkins and shooter Victoria Noble, opened with a 65-35 win over Stanton Prep but fell 61-46 to unbeaten Tocoi Creek.
Against Stanton, a 15-15 mid-second quarter score turned to fire with the Golden Eagles slashing out a 36-14 scoring blitz; Jenkins 20 Pts. (7 steals), Noble had 16 points with four threes and Ariana Pierce had 13, en route to the win.
Tocoi Creek got their own 18-8 first-quarter blitz on Fleming Island with the Golden Eagles answering with a 23-20 second and third-quarter scenario, but Tocoi owned the fourth quarter 23-15 for the win. Jenkins had 23 points with Pierce adding 16 with eight rebounds, but Noble just with three.
Fleming Island hosts Paxon on Mon., Nov. 27 with a four-game slate of powerhouses in Creekside, Trinity Christian, Orange Park and Ridgeview to open December with.
Lester-less Lady Raiders? Uh-Oh?
By Randy Lefko
ORANGE PARK - Orange Park High girls basketball coach Michael Nesmith "coyly" lamented the loss of all-everything guard Eris Lester to the transfer portals of high school basketball saying his Lady Raiders team will be struggling this year.
"Everyone writes about how with Lester (now at Monteverde Academy), Orange Park basketball is going to be struggling," said Nesmith. "We'll see."
Nesmith's reluctance to throw in the towel even before the season starts comes from his senior strong lineup of daughter Autumn Nesmith, guard Piera "Ice" Alexander, Hailey Revak and power center Mychaela Parker.
"Those writers forget that we had some pretty good players around Eris," said Nesmith, who opened with a game against St. Johns Country Day School team in a 57-47 Raider win. "I think these seniors may have something to prove this year."
Against the Lady Spartans much smaller team; with seven athletes, and led by super shooter Mary Kate Kent's outside prowess, Orange Park got lulled into an 8-7 lead by the Lady Spartans before Nesmith called a time-out and probably "reminded" his team of their supposed senior prowess as the second quarter was a show of power basketball to a 25-21 halftime lead.
After the break, St. Johns, under new coach Tyler Miller of Ridgeview region final history last year, flexed a little more muscle to an 18-16 stanza and a 41-39 game behind a flurry of three-pointers from eighth-grade forward Kendall Proffitt who also finished with 16 points. Sophomore Ashanti Williams pulled down 11 rebounds for St. Johns.
"I have seen and coached against the Orange Park girls and know what they do," said Miller. "We are small, but this team is very receptive and smart on the court."
Orange Park's schedule gets bigger and stronger with the likes of Buchholz, Gainesville, Oakleaf and Fleming Island slated through the first week of December.
St. Johns, in district 3-2A, got back on the W track with a 45-30 win over Keystone Heights on November 22 with Kent, Proffitt and sophomore Sophia Mejias all scoring 12 points apiece. Proffitt had four threes.
Keystone Heights 0-2, is now coached by first-year coach Sarah Andrews, a former Keystone Heights High player. The Lady Indians lost their opener to Ridgeview 53-10.