If Nature Coast had a game this season, Rita Jarque had a double-double.
That would barely qualify as an exaggeration. The 6-foot center pieced together a remarkably consistent junior campaign.
The Lady Sharks went 20-5, reaching the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2009, and in the team's 25 contests, Jarque failed to record double figures in points and rebounds in just one.
That lone aberration comes with a caveat. It occurred Dec. 3 in a 64-10 win over Weeki Wachee, when she had eight points and seven boards in a blowout that didn't call for stat padding.
She led the county in scoring, averaging 17.7 points per game, more than two and a half points better than Springstead's Hailey Enjeneski at 15.1.
For the second season in a row, she paced the local circuit in rebounding, averaging 16.3, two and a half boards higher than Springstead's Alyssa Clifton at 12.8.
There was really no debating that she was the county's most dominant player, on the most successful squad, making her an easy choice for Hernando Today Player of the Year.
"It means a lot. I feel so accomplished to be Player of the Year. It was one of my goals this year," Jarque said. "I just feel very accomplished to make it as a junior. I want to try to do the same thing next year."
Jarque's ascension wasn't a surprise. In a breakout sophomore season, her first on the varsity level, she averaged 12.0 points, 13.6 rebounds, 1.6 steals and 1.4 blocks, earning an All-County nod.
Though her blocks slipped to 0.9 this past season, all of her other averages increased, including steals to 3.0.
"I think coming off her sophomore season we knew she could be that player," Nature Coast head coach Emily Gore said. "She's gotten stronger from the time she was a freshman. At a younger age she relied on the fact she was bigger than anyone else. This year I think she started to develop more as a basketball player."
Gore pointed to Jarque's newfound commitment to year-round basketball. She joined an AAU team called Hoops Link out of Homosassa last offseason.
"Last year when I was put on varsity, I saw how good I could be," said Jarque, who is now with the Tampa Thunder. "I saw I can actually do this, this is the sport for me and I just wanted to get better."
It certainly translated to better results at the prep level, and it helped that the team improved, as well.
The Lady Sharks went 11-15 in 2012-13, but received a significant boost in personnel heading into 2013-14. Point guard Fatima Jones had missed most of the last season, and guard Latavea Sesler only played eight games on the varsity level.
Another starter on the perimeter, Emmalee Harris, transferred in from Springstead, while Jarque and guard Mirandas Jones returned.
The roster wasn't the only area that experienced an upgrade; the atmosphere around the club did, as well.
"We definitely had more fun this year," Jarque said. "Last year there was a lot of bickering and arguing after games. This year we started to play as a team. It was so much fun. It was easier because it was more fun."
Yet the Lady Sharks endured some bumps in the road late. Despite being the top seed, they dropped the Class 5A, District 7 title tilt to Pasco.
After bouncing back to beat Gulf in the regional quarterfinals, they suffered a 46-40 loss at Land O' Lakes in what seemed like a winnable game. The Lady Gators went on to defeat Citrus, a team Nature Coast had previously beaten, in the regional final.
Following a 16-point, 20-rebound performance against Gulf, Jarque had 10 points and 13 boards versus Land O' Lakes.
"After that game we were all so upset that we didn't go to the Elite Eight, because we know we can," Jarque said. "I believe next year we'll work so much harder. We've been playing together for three years. We believe we can make it to the Final Four and beyond."
The good news for Nature Coast is that all five starters are set to return. Jarque has a chance to add to an already impressive resume, as she pursues a college scholarship.
Gore noted that she'd like to see her standout post player assume more of a leadership role, and Jarque admits she still has room for growth.
"I don't think anybody is a perfect player. Just basketball-wise, I'll try to improve on the little stuff," Jarque said. "I'll try to be Player of the Year (as a senior) and let everybody know who I am, not just Hernando County.
"I'll try to do the things I feel college players should be doing before I even get to college. I'm not going to stop. I'm going to keep doing basketball year-round."
By the numbers: Rita Jarque
YR GP PTS PPG REB RPG BLK BPG STL SPG
So 25 301 12.0 340 13.6 36 1.4 39 1.6
Jr 25 443 17.7 407 16.3 23 0.9 75 3.0
Totals 50 744 14.9 747 14.9 59 1.2 114 2.3