Sports Editor

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SC GBB Angie Hernandez

St. Cloud's Angie Hernandez is one of a handful of Bulldogs who return from the team's 21-8 season last year, when they were co-conference champions and district runners-up.

St. Cloud, Gateway return multiple starters in race to win OBC

Three county teams went to the girls basketball regional playoffs last year, but it was private school City of Life that won it all, rolling to the Class 2A state title.

St. Cloud and Osceola went to the playoffs last year, and tied at the top of the Orange Belt Conference standings in 2018.

Heritage Christian will gun for another Florida Christian Conference title.

St. Cloud

The Bulldogs, under Coach Chad Ansbaugh, was 21-8 last year and was the District 8A-6 runner-up, and they return six starters to the lineup — no, that’s not bad math.

All the Bulldog starters return, and the team added Flagler College-bound shooting guard Jaden Langer, who transferred after starting for two seasons at Osceola.

Point guard Moriah Sanchez started most of her freshman year, running the offense and distributing to shooting threats Beka Benge and Bailey Ansbaugh, forward Rakela Cummings and center Eno Inyang, who also made an impact as a freshman.

Add Langer, guards Angie Rodriguez and Erin Maloney and forwards Kenzie Brantley, Bailey Miller and Yazmin Padilla, St. Cloud’s a team that will come at the competition in waves.

“We’re coming off our biggest summer program ever,” Coach Ansbaugh said. “If I can stay out of the way this could be a good season.”

The team plays a challenging schedule ahead of a county and District 8A-6 slate that includes Hagerty, Melbourne, Viera, Celebration, Harmony, Tohopekaliga and Liberty.

“It’s challenging, and we’ll take some lumps early so for a while we’ll have to walk by faith and not by sight,” Ansbaugh said. “What I want to see is our players dig in and show some grit early on.”

The Bulldogs scored an emphatic 85-84 overtime win Thursday against Florida Prep.

City of Life

What’s the best way for the Warriors, who went 21-5 last year, won its four playoff games by an average of 22.5 points per game and won the 2A title in Lakeland, to follow it all up?

By bringing back four starters and its first two role players off the bench back, that’s how.

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COL GBB Omega Payton

City of Life starters Omega Payton (with ball) and Reyna Buggs are back to try to help the Warriors defend their Class 2A girls state title.

Coach Dewrie Buggs’ team is heavy on talent and experience, led by a backcourt of his senior daughters, point guard Reyna Buggs and shooting guard Debra Buggs, named the 2A Player of the Year after averaging 15.0 points, 3.4 steals and 2.7 assists per game — she went for 27 per game in the regional final and state tournament.

Also back are junior center Asia Harvey, who averaged a double-double in the playoffs, sophomore power forward Omega Payton, junior forward Janelisse Marty and guard Josie DePool.

New pieces include seventh-grader Camila DePool, Josie’s sister and likely the Warriors’ point guard of the future, and forwards Sarah Barnhart and Mckayla Young.

The Warriors aren’t shying away from anyone on what they hope is another romp to the state tournament. The roster includes 2A regional finalist Seffner Christian, Lakeland Victory Christian, Orland Christian Prep, St. Cloud (Feb. 1) and Lake Nona.

“We did that on purpose, it’ll pay dividends in February (when the regional playoffs start),” Buggs said. “There are no easy games so we’ll have to fight and stay focused every night. And we’re going to get everybody’s best game, ‘Who can knock off the state champ?’”

Osceola

Much of the rest of the county is in a rebuilding mode, and that includes the Kowgirls, who were 19-6 last year but return no varsity starters — they all graduated or transferred.

New Coach Dion Byrum with a young backcourt of freshman Mya Lomax and sophomore Angel Roman, senior guard Tia Paul, senior forward Capresha Morris and senior center Zabrina Bryant.

Bryant and fellow senior Jazmin Warner are the only returning varsity players. Freshman Sophia Chevresm sophomore Vilma Iglesias and senior Jadejah Holmes could also make an impact.

“The Strength of our team will be the defense, speed and our athleticism,” Byrum said. “No varsity experience but we have potential.”

The Kowgirls opened the season Monday with a 61-24 win over Tohopekaliga.

Gateway

Justin Marino, who coached a Neptune Middle program to multiple county championships, moves up to the high school level and takes over a Panthers program that was 7-13 last year.

He has five returning starters and role players to work with. Junior forward Anissa Tuitt had 20 rebounds in a game against Osceola last season, senior Manushka LaFortune started and Katelyn Cardoza made an impact last year as a freshman.

Forward Ashley Toussaint also returns, and junior Gyomara Ramos can play both guard spots. Freshman Nerish Moreau, who Marino calls “lightning fast” is playing a lot of point guard.

The varsity roster also includes freshmen Nerishlyan Moreau and Brianna Joseph and sophomore Elizabeth Kerber.

The Panthers opened the season with a 67-35 win over Poinciana last week.

“I'm excited to bring my brand of up-tempo basketball to this team,” Marino said. “Last year they only scored over 40 points once. In our first game we put up 67.”

Gateway and Osceola are in District 9A-7 with George Jenkins, Ridge and Haines City, the favorite to win a third consecutive district title powered by coveted senior Fuji Nimmo.

Harmony

The Longhorns were 8-13 last season, and Coach Paul Strauch has to replace his top two scorers who graduated, and newcomers will have the contribute to the scoring.

Senior guards Ty Green and Allison Richardson will fill some of that role, along with junior Taitiyana Taylor and senior Andrea Santiago.

“Carlee will probably start at point guard which is tough for a sophomore but she has worked hard and is ready,” Strauch said. “Andrea had a great summer and has worked hard, hopefully it will translate this year. I expect sophomore Carlee Fitzgerald, freshman Alison Fitzpatrick and junior Ronnie Carlozzi to also contribute.”

Celebration

The Storm and Coach Beltran Munoz return eight varsity players, but only one started at all last season, junior guard Selina Rivera. Yet it’s a freshman, point guard Giomarie Rodriguez, who led the team to its first win of the year over Tohopekaliga.

“Our junior class is deep and all have varsity experience since their freshman year,” Munoz said. “Giomarie has already made an impact and we look forward to her continuing that trend.”

Among those back are seniors Nicole Temple (post) and Vivian Ng (guard), junior guards Andrea Echeverria and Mariana Gomez and forwards Sabrina Binet and Sophia Rivera and sophomore guard Kaelyn Figueras.

Poinciana

The Eagles struggled through a tumultuous 4-21 season last year, but have a new coach, Richard Morgan, and a core of returning varsity players to lean on. Sophomore De’Nysha Reynolds and juniors Haeley Williams and Nahomie Burgos are guards, and junior Monika Soriano is a presence in the paint.

They’re supported by a transfer, senior Jillian James, who scored 18 points in the season opener against Gateway.

Poinciana is in a tough District 6A-13 with Bishop Moore, Leesburg, Eustis and Tavares.

Liberty

Danny Saunders coaches a Chargers team that has some size and experience. They’re led by guards Zorae Rollins and Angelica Sanjurjo. The post features freshmen — 5-11 centers Angeline Beecher and Ashley Heredia and 5-8 forwards Analise Beecher and Taitiana Dominguez.

Liberty opened the season with a 57-20 win over Orlando Faith Christian Academy.

Tohopekaliga

Jennifer Farrell coaches the first girls team to take to the Tigers hardwood in school history.

Juniors Zuleidy Hernandez and Valeria Olarte play the guard spots, and Gilenys Hernandez plays the post positions. Senior Aniyali Vega provides some experience, and freshman Nina Malave is also contributing along with sophomore Fabiola Morales.

Heritage Christian

The Eagles will go after the conference title with a young squad — sophomores Kaitlyn Nieves and Phania Theodore are the elder stateswomen. The squad also includes freshman Samantha Theus, who transferred from the state-winning City of Life team, eighth graders Jeychell Soto, Mikayla Puckering and Joy Joly and seventh graders Kimberly Vicuna and Kamilla Lopes.