Posted: 12:48 pm Monday, February 17th, 2014

Girls Hoops: Inside the state semifinals 

By Anthony Chiang

After a long season, four area teams will be heading to Lakeland for the girls basketball state tournament. Three of the squads come from Palm Beach County.

Grandview Prep (2A), Palm Beach Lakes (7A), Park Vista (8A) and Treasure Coast (8A) are still alive. Their stories to get to this point are all different, but they all share the same goal — win a state title.

The Pride are back to where it ended for them last season. Grandview Prep fell to Tallahassee-FAMU in the state semifinals in 2013, and the Pride will get another chance at FAMU in this year’s state semis. Last season’s loss has motivated Grandview Prep this season, as it enters the final four with a 23-2 record. The Pride cruised by Miami Beach-Hebrew Academy in the Class 2A regional finals to reach Lakeland.

In Class 7A, Palm Beach Lakes will represent Palm Beach County. This isn’t the Rams’ first trip to the state tournament, but it is their first since 2003. After beating Davie-Nova, which was the state’s top 7A team, in the regional finals, Lakes is the favorite to win the state title.

The area will be well represented in Class 8A, as Park Vista and Treasure Coast will face off in the state semifinals. Unlike Grandview Prep and Lakes, this marks the Cobras’ first trip to the state tournament in school history. It has been a historic year for Park Vista’s girls basketball program.

Here’s some stuff to help keep track of the games in Lakeland:

Here are the updated brackets: 8A, 7A, 6A, 5A, 4A, 3A, 2A, 1A.

Here is the complete schedule for this year’s state tournament:

Tuesday, Feb. 18, 11:30 a.m.: Grandview Prep (23-2) vs. Tallahassee-FAMU (25-5)
Thursday, Feb. 20, 8:30 p.m.: Palm Beach Lakes vs. Apopka-Wekiva (24-6)
Friday, Feb. 21, 7 p.m.: Park Vista (24-4) vs. Treasure Coast (20-6)

I’ll be in Lakeland for the tournament, so make sure to follow me on Twitter for news and updates from the games.

If you are able to make it up to Lakeland, admission is $10 per session at The Lakeland Center.

That’s enough of that. Here is what you need to know about the state semifinal games involving area teams.

Class 2A

The Matchups: Tallahassee-FAMU vs. Grandview Prep; Land O’ Lakes-Academy at the Lakes vs. Sarasota Christian.

It could be argued that the winner between Grandview Prep and FAMU will have the inside track at the state title. FAMU (No. 1) and Grandview Prep (No. 2) are the state’s top two Class 2A teams. Last season, the Rattlers beat the Pride 53-49 in the state semifinals. Since that loss, Grandview Prep stars Vionise Pierre-Louis and Neydja Petithomme have worked hard to get this opportunity to redeem themselves.

Grandview Prep center Vionise Pierre-Louis is looking to lead the Pride girls basketball team to its first state title. (Photo by Richard Graulich)

“We set our schedule up this season to play some of the top teams in our area to be able to prepare us to play FAMU,” Pride coach Gary Downing said.

But it’s not going to be easy. FAMU is back-to-back state champions and enter with a 25-5 record. Fun fact: Rattlers star LaKaris Salter, a 6-foot forward who is signed to play at Mississippi State, played with Pierre-Louis on the same travel team this past summer. The two know each other well, and they will likely battle it out on the post Tuesday. In last season’s matchup, Salter finished with 15 points and three blocks. But sophomore Jasmine Jones might be the best player on FAMU’s roster. As a freshman, she led the Rattlers with 19 points and seven rebounds against the Pride in last year’s state semifinals. If Grandview Prep wants a different result this time around, it will have to limit the guard.

Class 7A

The Matchups: Apopka-Wekiva vs. Palm Beach Lakes; Harmony vs. Sarasota.

After beating Davie-Nova in the regional finals, Palm Beach Lakes is the favorite to win the Class 7A state title. But it has been a process to reach this point. The Rams graduated eight seniors and returned just one starter from last year’s team. The emergence of junior Kayla Thigpen, who is averaging over 20 points per game, has helped speed up the rebuilding process (if there was one). Lakes’ only loss of the season came against Grandview Prep, which is playing in the Class 2A state tournament this week. That loss was by just one point. Since then, the Rams have won 13 in a row.

Palm Beach Lakes junior Kayla Thigpen is averaging over 20 points per game. (Photo by Bruce Bennett)

Wekiva will try to put a stop to that streak with its strong defense. The Mustangs have held four of their past six opponents to less than 30 points. Since losing to Fort Lauderdale-Dillard, last year’s Class 5A state champion, on Jan. 18, Wekiva has won seven straight. It has been a historic year for the Mustangs, as it included their first 20-win season, first district title and first trip to Lakeland. But Wekiva will enter Thursday’s contest as the underdog.

Class 8A

The Matchups: Treasure Coast vs. Park Vista; Sanford-Seminole vs. Miami.

Only 56 miles separate Treasure Coast and Park Vista, and the two high schools will battle it out for a spot in the state championship on Friday. The Cobras aren’t the deepest team in the world, as they ask their starters to play for most of the game. But the trio of of junior Jasmyne Martin, sophomore Kiara Meeks and senior Emily Lochten are good enough to negate Park Vista’s depth problem. The three have combined to average 44.8 points per game this season. It has been a year to remember for the Cobras, as they earned their first regional win and trip to Lakeland. Now, the program will look to win its first state title.

Park Vista has seen Treasure Coast play this year. Although they haven’t faced each other yet this season, the two teams played in a tournament in Orlando together in December. The Titans are known for their press defense, which held Grandview Prep to just 37 points earlier this season. Treasure Coast has held three teams to less than 20 points this year.

“We’ve seen them play like three times already this year,” Park Vista coach Keith Mackrey said. “They were in an Orlando tournament with us. They’re a pretty good team. They play strong defense. They will try to press us and speed us up.”