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Sunday, Mar 29, 2015

Sharks will try to stay in front


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Nature Coast set out upon the 2012-13 season to prove it could survive without its graduated standout center Tyler Bergantino.

The Sharks did just that, capturing a district championship and advancing to the Sweet 16 while compiling a 24-4 record in what logically seemed like a rebuilding year.

Once again, Nature Coast approaches a new campaign missing two pivotal cogs from last season's squad, All-County selections Vic Davila and Yamil Marrero.

So the question stands: Can the Sharks still keep up a pace unprecedented within the local ranks?

Over the previous four seasons they have combined for three district titles, four regional appearances and a county-record eight regional victories. The other county schools put together total seven all-time regional/state finals triumphs.

That span for the Sharks features three trips to the Elite Eight, four to the Sweet 16 and one to the Final Four.

"Being at Nature Coast, we always have high expectations," seventh-year Nature Coast head coach David Pisarcik said. "There's a certain standard we try to meet each year. We're trying to win a county championship and we're trying to win a district championship, and whatever happens in the (regional) playoffs happens."

The cupboard is hardly bare for the Sharks. They have perhaps the premier inside-outside combo in the county with seniors Rohan Blackwood and Carlos Clemente.

Blackwood may be in line to sign a football scholarship with Wisconsin in a few months, but he's also a repeat All-County pick on the hardwood. The power forward averaged 15.0 points and 11.2 rebounds a season ago.

Clemente arrived from Puerto Rico and provided the Sharks with a rangy outside shooter, knocking down 66 shots from beyond the arc while averaging 12.1 points.

"Carlos and Rohan were a big part of what we did last year and we're expecting them to be a big part of our success this year," Pisarcik said.

"Carlos has definitely worked on his basketball game and he has a year more experience. Rohan has been experienced. He's played varsity basketball for four years. Now it's his senior year. With his experience and athletic ability, he'll be able to produce."

The critical task of replacing Davila at point guard falls on junior Andrew Parker, who saw limited action off the bench as a sophomore.

While the Sharks attempt to reload, they'll no longer have to battle Eustis as they shoot for a third straight Class 5A, District 7 crown.

"We graduated a lot of seniors again and the guys are ready to go," Pisarcik said. "We fully expect to be back in the district championship game. We fully expect to make a run and have a great season.

"I think last year was one of the toughest districts we've ever been a part of. I think any four teams (Nature Coast, Eustis, Hernando and Tavares) could have won that district. We were fortunate to win the district. It was one of our goals and we were happy we achieved it."

The district now includes Central, Hernando, Pasco, Weeki Wachee, Wesley Chapel and Zephyrhills.

Wesley Chapel has gone to regionals three straight years; however the Wildcats took a big hit with the graduation of 5A Player of the Year Erik Thomas.

"We definitely are aware of the challenge our district brings. I think our district is tough," Pisarcik said. "It's whole new teams that we haven't seen much of. It's pretty much up in the air."

???Hernando's 18-8 performance in 2012-13 represented its first winning record since 2003-04 under head coach Jeff Laing.

Laing has returned to the helm, replacing Mark Latsko, who ended his five-year run with the Leopards to become head football coach at his alma mater, Gainesville High.

Though Laing has remained a constant presence on the Hernando athletic scene, he admittedly didn't see much of the boys team last season. He was busy watching his daughter Rebecca play for the girls.

Compounding matters, Laing wasn't brought aboard until just prior to the start of the school year, and eight of his players have been preoccupied playing football.

"We're behind," Laing said. "So I think it'll be a real unknown throughout November and December. These guys are getting to know me. I'm trying to figure out their strengths and weaknesses. So it'll be a process for us."

The Leopards lost Puerto Rico transfers Jeffrey Velasquez and Giovanni Perez to graduation. Both were All-County selections, with Velasquez garnering Player of the Year honors.

Still, they have an All-County pick from two seasons ago, junior point guard Mark Wilson. In 2012-13, Wilson averaged 14.4 points, 3.1 assists, 3.5 rebounds and 3.6 steals, but was limited to 12 games due to a broken collarbone.

Senior forward Ra'shaad Hart chipped in 8.2 points, 8.6 rebounds, 1.2 blocks and 1.2 steals per contest as a junior.

"In order for us to be successful, we need balance," Laing said. "So we'll need contributions from everybody."

Laing referred to his team as "a blank slate right now" while they feel their way through the early portion of the schedule, making it difficult to make any predictions.

"I want my seniors to graduate and have a great experience," Laing said. "And I want us to be in contention in the district tournament.

"All roads lead to the state playoffs. If we can take the 20 games we're going to play (in the regular season) and use that as a learning experience, we'll be successful."

Central (8-17 in 2012-13) has to overcome the graduation loss of sharp-shooting All-County guard Joey Stokes.

The spotlight falls on senior swingman Sinjin Blahla, who posted averages of 10.1 points, 4.0 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 2.2 steals last season.

"We'll ask of him as much as any player we've had," said Central head coach Matt Zandecki, starting his fourth year. "He's our captain, our best defender, one of our main rebounders. He's a leader on the court and I think he has the potential to be one of the best players in the area."

Blahla's performance will be magnified because the cast around him lacks much in experience.

"We're very green this year," Zandecki said. "The kids who were on the varsity team last year didn't play a whole lot of minutes.

"We're very inexperienced. On paper, people are probably looking at us on the lower level of the district and county. But we're hoping to be overachievers."

Weeki Wachee (4-20 in 2012-13) enters its third year led by senior forward Tyler Wiley, an All-County selection after pacing the county in scoring averaging 20.1 points.

Head coach Bob Croyle was unavailable for comment.

???Since reaching the state championship game in 2009, Springstead hasn't had much luck getting the program back on track. The Eagles went 4-17 in 2012-13.

But with nine seniors and eight returnees, second-year headman Tim Plumadore sees better times ahead.

"I have to be optimistic," Plumadore said. "We played a bunch this summer. We've been putting together a lot of good basketball for a while. I feel pretty good about this year."

The big key for the Eagles will be their depth. Senior guards Devonte Valentin, Aaron Waddy, Kyle Cotilletta and Wilfred Pagan, as well as senior forward Bobby Harris are among those who could make significant contributions.

Springstead will compete in 6A-10, where Largo, led by junior small forward Donavan Hale, figures to be the favorite.

Plumadore believes the Eagles can compete for the second spot in the district along with St. Petersburg-Dixie Hollins, Mitchell and Seminole-Osceola.

"We have several team goals," Plumadore said. "We want to win a county championship. I think we have a really good chance to do that. I want to be in contention for a district championship. We're in a really tough district.

"We want to make a playoff run, so that's our goal."

Hernando Christian Academy will field a varsity team for the first time since 2010-11. Head coach Jeremy Barker has a 12-man roster in addition to two players hoping to return from injuries.

A program that won a district title in 2007-08 will play as an independent this season. However, Barker said he has set up his schedule to include many teams that would have been in the Lions' district as a way of measuring the team's progress.

"We're small," said Barker, who coached the JV Lions last season. "I'm 6'2" and we don't have anyone taller than me. We'll try to be scrappy and aggressive defensively. We'll try to play man-to-man defense and stay away from lackadaisical defense."

Senior shooting guard Jake Jackson is the "unquestioned leader," according to Barker. Fellow seniors Nathan Maddox and Brielle Manuel will also help on the wing.

"I don't have a number of wins," Barker said of the goals. "Our biggest goal is for our team this year to compete."

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